By Margaret Naczek
The Catholic Sun

Thousands of Catholics gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center Oct. 22 for the 42nd annual Arizona Rosary Celebration in a spectacle of color, music and prayer to honor Our Lady of Fatima during the centennial of her appearance to three young children.

A statue of Our Lady of Fatima overlooks relics of two of the three children she appeared to 100 years ago in Portugal. (Jesus Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN via CMM)

Viva Maria [Long live Mary]!” Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, CSB, called out to the nearly 5,500 people in attendance. Bishop Ramirez, bishop emeritus of Las Cruces, New Mexico, delivered the keynote address. The United Nations Pilgrim Virgin Statue along with the first-class relics of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marta, two of the three children of Fatima, were displayed at the event.

“Only Catholics could do something like this,” Bishop Ramirez said as he greeted the crowd. “Look at all these colors!”

Matachines dancers carrying drums danced down the aisles. Families dressed in ethnic costumes carried roses to the Virgin Statue. Representatives of multiple parishes carried banners emblazoned with beads, glitter and flowers honoring the Virgin Mary in her many different appearances.

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“To see all the different cultures and all the different races and seeing all the joy, there’s no division and everyone is happy,” volunteer Peggy LaCamera said. “It’s like a taste of heaven.”

John Garcia, right and a member of the Knights of Columbus, salutes the American flag toward the beginning of the Arizona Rosary Celebration. The Knights co=sponsor the event which has drawn several thousand for decades. (Jesus Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN via CMM)

John Garcia, a representative of the Knights of Columbus Arizona State Council, which co-sponsors the celebration, has been working the event for more than 11 years and continues to fall in love with Mary through the community gathered to pray the Rosary. Looking around the Convention Center, he said he saw faces “full of life and full of love” in every skin tone, age and ethnicity.

Referencing the recent events in today’s world — natural disasters, war, division and injustice — attendees said turning to Our Lady of Fatima is more crucial than ever. Our Lady of Fatima came to the world in 1917 during the midst of the greatest war the world had seen — World War I — in what Bishop Ramirez called the bloodiest, most violent century. And she brought with her a mantle of light amidst the darkness.

“I think so many things have happened in this world, this year especially, that we can always just hang on to prayer as a ray of hope in this darkness of life,” said Claudia Abougawde, a parishioner at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in Phoenix.

The St. Mary’s National Special Events Choir, which consists of students in third through eighth grade, sang throughout the event and Catholic high school students from the diocese read the petitions during the Rosary.

Our Lady of Fatima understood the faith of children when she appeared to the three young children. That call to children draws many Catholics to her.

A young boy places a Silver Rose at the foot of the Marian altar which served as a focal point during Phoenix’s Arizona Rosary Celebration Oct. 23. This year’s gathering honored Mary under her now century-old title as Lady of Fatima. (Jesus Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN via CMM)

“I think that the innocence of children brings us together because they see things differently,” attendee Paige Mead said. “They don’t have the same prejudices we have as adults. They look through the eyes of innocence.”

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, CSB, bishop emeritus of Las Cruces, New Mexico, gave the keynote address. (Jesus Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN via CMM)

Bishop Ramirez urged the children in attendance to pray the Rosary, understand the Rosary and, most importantly, share it with their friends. With the holiday season just around the corner, he suggested a rosary as a gift for their friends.

“There is a devotion to Mary, and it is strong,” Bishop Ramirez proclaimed before a booming round of applause.

Anna Stary, a parishioner at Our Lady of Czestochowa, reflected on the importance of Mary in her family’s life.

“This is everything for us,” she said. “Having Mary gives us peace, gives us happiness, gives us the power to live our life.”

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