‘Arizona Rosary Celebration’ draws thousands in colorful tribute

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A woman holds up her rosaries to be blessed at the 40th annual Rosary Celebration held Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Phoenix Convention Center. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
A woman holds up her rosaries to be blessed at the 40th annual Rosary Celebration held Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Phoenix Convention Center. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

They came from across the Diocese of Phoenix and beyond to show their love for Mary and ask for her intercession.

The 40th annual Arizona Rosary Celebration drew several thousand Catholics to the Phoenix Convention Center Oct. 25 to pray the Rosary, listen to an inspirational message and soak up the blessings that poured out on a colorful display of faith and heartfelt affection for the Mother of God.

Matachines, arrayed in their traditional Native attire — many sporting feathered headdresses — beat drums and danced a path through the streets of downtown Phoenix as they made their way to the convention hall. Inside, the faithful waited patiently in line for confession, knelt before the Blessed Sacrament or milled about the hall enjoying a concert by the Christian Singers of Phoenix Music Ministry prior to the program.

Vanessa Rodriguez and Giselle Reyes display their banner at the annual celebration. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Vanessa Rodriguez and Giselle Reyes display their banner at the annual celebration. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Michael Dixon, master of ceremonies, noted the 200 altar servers lined up in the rear of the hall and the fact that the Church is still in the midst of the Year for Consecrated Life.

“It’s in your home that vocations are born,” Dixon said to the crowd. “We need to ask every eligible young man and woman — let God use your voice to cause the seeds of vocation to sprout. … Jesus may be calling you. Ask Him as you pray the Rosary today.”

The Knights of Columbus, who have been organizing the Rosary event for the last dozen or so years, showed in force with their ceremonial capes and swords, solemnly carrying the flag down the center aisle as the national anthem was sung.

John Garcia, the Knight charged with promoting the Rosary celebration, said that at least two seminarians in the Phoenix Diocese once served at the event. Each year the Knights sponsor a luncheon for the altar servers just prior to the program where the children hear a short talk on vocations.

“We have this little captive audience there and it just works wonderfully,” Garcia said with a grin.

More than 200 altar servers served at the annual celebration. Prior to the event each year, the servers attend a luncheon to hear about vocations. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
More than 200 altar servers served at the annual celebration. Prior to the event each year, the servers attend a luncheon to hear about vocations. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares each addressed the crowd of thousands in both English and Spanish. Decades of the Rosary were led in each language and another was led in Vietnamese.

“We’re gathered here today because of the great love God has for us, that He gave us not only His only begotten Son, but He gave Him to us through Our Lady,” Bishop Olmsted said. Pointing to the recently canonized St. Junípero Serra, the bishop noted that before the saint began his mission in the New World, he made a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Every place he went he introduced people to Our Lady of Guadalupe and he constantly asked her protection,” Bishop Olmsted said.

Redemptorist Father Dennis Billy, gives the keynote address during the Rosary Celebration. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Redemptorist Father Dennis Billy, gives the keynote address during the Rosary Celebration. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Redemptorist Father Dennis Billy, the priest who gave the stirring keynote address, pointed to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, the title under which the Blessed Mother was honored during the Rosary celebration. The Redemptorists have a special devotion to Our Lady under this title as Pope Piux IX entrusted them with the icon that portrays her. The original image is in a church in Rome where Fr. Billy said he’s celebrated Mass many times through the years.

Quoting St. Therese of Lisieux, Fr. Billy noted that Mary is both Queen and Mother, but she is more Mother than Queen. The Church celebrates Mary under dozens of titles because our Catholicity embraces all nations and cultures. Her motherly affection is a source of comfort and strength to all, he said.

“You can have the nicest house, the most money, the nicest car but not have any love, that sense of warmth that makes a home,” Fr. Billy said. “Jesus gave us His mother as He hung on the cross. … He wanted to give us this sense of warmth of motherly affection, the same sense of motherly affection he experienced as He grew up in His home in Nazareth.”

Recalling the words of Pope St. John Paul, that “the Church needs to breath with both lungs, East and West,” Fr. Billy explained that the Rosary is a Western prayer tradition while icons are an Eastern prayer tradition.

Bishop Gerald N. Dino of the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix flips through the program before the event. This was the first year that Bishop Dino participated in the Arizona Rosary Celebration. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Gerald N. Dino of the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix flips through the program before the event. This was the first year that Bishop Dino participated in the Arizona Rosary Celebration. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Gerald N. Dino of the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix sat alongside Bishops Olmsted and Nevares and attended his first Arizona Rosary Celebration, a visual witness to the union of East and West through the Catholic faith.

And while the Mother of Perpetual Help icon may seem unrealistic or out of proportion to Western eyes, in actuality it depicts the tender care of Mary for her children. Her eyes are on her children, no matter where they may be. The image recalls a moment when the Christ Child envisioned His future passion. In a similar way, each of us may also sense our future suffering and death, but in that moment, Our Lady and her Son are with us, Fr. Billy said.

“Whatever your needs are, whatever your fears are, bring them to Mary because Mary loves you and she only wants to bring you to her Son. She will never take her eye off of you,” Fr. Billy said.

Dorothy Westfall, who dreamed up the Rosary event four decades ago, marveled at the large crowd that gathered again this year for the celebration. It’s taken the hard work of hundreds of volunteers to keep the effort going.

“The first couple years, we thought, we’ll just do it this one year,” Westfall said. Then they received a call from a woman in Sun City who wanted to arrange bus transportation for the next year.

“At that point, we weren’t going to have another one but we said to the committee, ‘We’ve got to have it because of the bus from Sun City coming.’ So she really prodded us on,” Westfall said.

Fourth Degree members of the Knights of Columbus salute Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted during the opening procession at Rosary Celebration. The Knights have been organizing the annual event for more than 10 years. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Fourth Degree members of the Knights of Columbus salute Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted during the opening procession at Rosary Celebration. The Knights have been organizing the annual event for more than 10 years. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

So what is it that brings people back, year after year?

“We pray that Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament and you just feel the presence of the Lord. You just feel like the Lord’s come down upon all these people.”

Charles Ciarametaro of Most Holy Trinity Parish is one of them. He was there with his five children.

“It’s the third time we’ve been here. It’s a good way to demonstrate to the kids what it means to support your parish and pray to Mary at the same time,” Ciarmetaro said.

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