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Thousands of Catholics gather along Polish border for controversial prayer event

(Reuters/David W Cerny)A woman holds a rosary as she walks through the forest during a mass rosary prayer on Polish-Czech borders near the village of Szklarska Poreba, Poland.

Thousands of Catholics gathered along Poland's 2,200-mile border during the weekend to participate in a controversial prayer rally that some felt had anti-Muslim overtones.

Polish Catholics held rosaries and prayed to the Virgin Mary and God for the salvation of Poland and the world. Church leaders have contended that the event was purely religious, but there were concerns that it could be seen as an endorsement of the government's refusal to accept Muslim migrants.

The prayer rally, called "Rosary to the Borders," was organized by lay Catholics and endorsed by Polish church authorities, with 320 churches from 22 dioceses taking part, according to Associated Press.

The event took place in some 4,000 locations at various points along Poland's border with Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia and the Baltic Sea.

The event commemorated the centenary of Fatima, when the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal. It also marks the anniversary of the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571 when a Christian alliance acting on the wishes of the Pope defeated Ottoman Empire forces on the Ionian Sea.

Krakow Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski reportedly urged Catholics to pray "for the other European nations to make them understand it is necessary to return to Christian roots so that Europe would remain Europe."

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo expressed her support for the event by tweeting an image of rosary beads with a crucifix and sending greetings to the participants.

The organizers of the event insisted that the prayers were not directed against any group, but some of the participants cited fears of Islam among the reasons for attending the prayer rally.

Halina Kotarska, 65, came to the event to express gratitude after her 29-year-old son survived a car crash, which she considers as a miracle that transpired due to the Virgin Mary's intercession.

She noted that she is also praying for the survival of Christianity in Poland and the rest of Europe. "Islam wants to destroy Europe. They want to turn us away from Christianity," she said.

Polish Catholics were also seen praying in chapels at airports, while Polish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan prayed at Bagram Airfield.

Another participant, Krzysztof Januszewski, expressed his concern that Christian Europe is being threatened by Islamic extremists and by a loss of faith in Christian societies.

"In the past, there were raids by sultans and Turks and people of other faiths against us Christians. Today Islam is flooding us and we are afraid of this too. We are afraid of terrorist threats and we are afraid of people departing from the faith," he said.

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