Students from more than 30 Catholic schools in three dioceses across Arizona converged in one spot for a statewide field trip.
They filled the concrete circle at Wesley Bolin Plaza Feb. 3 for the annual Catholic Schools Week rally. Their physical presence and youthful energy represented more than 21,000 Catholic school students throughout the Grand Canyon state eager to affirm their role in a Catholic school and the need for a faithful community to support it.
A series of student speakers, bishops and other adult leaders shared brief remarks throughout the lunchtime rally. They highlighted the important role a Catholic education plays in the lives of students and communities.
Both student speakers had recently transferred to the Catholic school system and noted the value of a caring faculty and staff among the differences.
Citlally Ramirez, an eighth-grader, is in her second year at St. Vincent de Paul School in Maryvale.
“Everyone is centered on how we can learn more about our religion … and helping others,” Ramirez said.
She expressed gratitude for state laws that allow donors to support private schools through a tuition tax credit because she knows life in a single-parent household would have been much more stressful without it.
The Xavier College Preparatory hopeful — and aspiring doctor — watched the Gators’ Spiritline lead the crowd in some cheers including one for Catholic Education Arizona, which awarded some $15.8 million in need-based tuition scholarship this school year.
Ilce Enriquez, a senior at San Miguel High School in Tucson, hinted that the Holy Spirit guided her toward a Catholic high school. The idea of a faith-based education hadn’t crossed her mind, but she expressed gratitude for teachers, staff and students for showing her a better way.
“I know I have gained the strengths and morals I never even knew existed,” Enriquez said.
She hopes to follow in the footsteps of her sister, a San Miguel alumna who was the first in their family to go to college.
Representative Steve Montenegro from Arizona Legislative District 13, which includes Avondale, was one of two legislators who stopped by during an undoubtedly busy fourth week of the legislature. He told students that Arizona is a leader in the country regarding empowerment scholarships and highlighted plans to offer universal education vouchers for children.
Although only two legislators were able to stop by the rally, exponentially more met with Arizona’s bishops during two days surrounding the rally. Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, told The Catholic Sun that the bishops “had very good and productive meetings with almost two dozen legislators,” that included House Speaker David Gowan and Senate President Andy Biggs.
Johnson said the highlight of the visit was the 14th annual Catholic Schools Rally. Gowan and Montenegro briefly addressed students and were sure to share God’s blessing with the crowd before their departure. Teachers, parents and supporters from across Arizona filled out the crowd.
The rally “was a great way to say ‘thank you’ to the Arizona Legislature for being the national leader in school choice laws,” Johnson said.
Arizona’s bishops took turns encouraging students to be people of prayer and gratitude for the education they are receiving so they can be authentic witnesses for the Church of today and tomorrow.