Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted greets a child during last year’s Arizona Rosary Celebration at the Phoenix Convention Center (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN).

For years, the Diocese of Phoenix has hosted one of the largest annual public rosary celebrations in the United States, bringing together thousands of local Catholics in a colorful, mid-October tradition.

The event features traditional Mexican dancers in a vibrant parade through downtown Phoenix and a blessing procession at the Phoenix Convention Center that culminates with the recitation of the rosary, a keynote address by a well-known speaker and benediction.

Last year, the Arizona Rosary Celebration broadened its reach to establish a rosary event in the Diocese of Tucson. The celebration in Tucson takes place Oct. 20 at the Cathedral of St. Augustine. The Phoenix event will be held Oct. 21.

The Knights of Columbus and other organizations, such as the Legion of Mary and the Catholic Daughters, assist both dioceses with Arizona Rosary Celebration. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted will preside at the Phoenix event and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas will preside at the Tucson event.

Larry Costanzo of the Knights of Columbus is chairman of the 2012 statewide event.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to get together and pray the rosary since the way to Jesus is through Mary,” Costanzo said. “But this year, the United States needs all the help we can get from prayer to save our country. In a nutshell, we Catholics need to get together and pray that our country will turn around and go back to a culture of life from a culture of death.”

Mario Fierros, one of the organizers of this year’s event, agreed.

“The situation in our country, in our state and in our world — people are in great need of the rosary,” Fierros said. “It’s going to help solve some of the problems we have.”

John Garcia of the Knights of Columbus pointed to the blessing procession as one of the more touching aspects of the annual rosary celebration.

“It’s a thing of beauty and a demonstration of the unity we have as Catholics,” Garcia said. “It’s a coming together of everybody. We erase the lines of ethnicity and color and we are just Catholic.”

The rosary celebration, Garcia said, is also a show of Catholic faith and unity in a world in which Christianity is under attack.

“This is the time when we get together and show the world we are standing unified by our faith and we can still do it publicly,” Garcia said. “Catholics are here to stay. We’re not a fad and we’re not going to go away quietly into the night.”

The celebration in Phoenix begins when the Columbian Squires and Silver Rose leave St. Mary’s High School at 11:15 a.m. and march to the Diocesan Pastoral Center. There, they will join altar servers for lunch at noon with Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Fr. Zachary of Our Mother of God Shallow, SOLT will be the keynote speaker for both the Phoenix and Tucson celebrations. A former attorney, Fr. Shallow later served as a formator of seminarians for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. He now serves as the priest director of administration and formation for the lay faithful for SOLT.

Kindergarten through eighth grade students who attend Catholic schools, religious education programs or are home-schooled are invited to participate in the ARC’s poster contest again this year. The theme for this year’s contest is “The Immaculate Conception and my Family.”  The deadline for submissions is October 19, 2012. Rules and registration forms are available at Winners of the contest will be invited to a pizza party with the bishop of their respective diocese.

Arizona Rosary Celebration

Phoenix, Sunday, Oct. 21

12:30 p.m. Parade of the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe departs from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, 909 E. Washington St., escorted by Matachin dancers

1:30 p.m. St. Mary’s Basilica choir concert, Phoenix Convention Center

2 p.m. Bishops’ procession, followed by blessing procession, keynote address by Fr. Zachary Shallow, SOLT, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the rosary and Benediction

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