Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares joins other priests in celebrating the Liturgy of the Eucharist during the Independence Day Mass July 4 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

While red might be the color we most closely associate with Jesus’ death on the Cross; red, white and blue were the colors filling St. Thomas the Apostle Church as the Diocese of Phoenix marked the nation’s 243rd birthday with its annual Independence Day Prayer for America and Rosary for the United States.

Celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, the Mass drew an estimated 700 worshippers to the central Phoenix church, many of whom wore shirts, blouses, skirts, pins, scarves and even hats bearing the nation’s colors.

“This is our eighth year. I’ve never missed a Mass,” said St. Thomas parishioner Denise Harkison. “Our country needs prayer now more than ever. We are declining morally. God is being pushed out of the picture. We need to ask His mercy.”

Religious freedom was the day’s theme, with Bishop Nevares in his homily recalling Abraham’s decision to willingly sacrifice his son Isaac when commanded by God, only to have an angel divinely intercede at the last second with God’s acknowledgement that Abraham was ready to obey God no matter the cost.

Clergy distribute Holy Communion to the faithful, including sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, at the Independence Day Mass July 4 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

“We are a great nation because we have God as our Creator, our Master, our Father, and we have Jesus Christ as our Savior,” the bishop said, and “because we respect everyone’s dignity and everyone’s right to express their religious liberty; to worship God in the Church, our home and our society,” adding that this freedom has allowed Americans to pass these values across generations.

“Unfortunately, today some are promoting other values and morals,” he continued, citing as examples abortion, transgenderism, homosexual marriage, “We need to respond to God and get back to our Judeo-Christian values … to once again allow God to have first place in our individual lives and homes,” the bishop said.

“It seemed very positive and carried a hopeful tone. In the past, we seemed focused on fighting against this issue and that issue,” said Jack Ahern, one of the Mass and rosary’s organizers and a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale. “I had people approach me, some with tears in their eyes, saying ‘We need this.’”

Following Mass, worshippers prayed the Rosary for the United States of America, with one decade each offered for the nation’s executive, legislative and judicial branches, state governments, plus police, fire and first responders. A total of 50 “Hail Marys” were offered, one for each of the 50 states.

Faithful pray the third decade of Rosary for the United States of America with an intention for the judicial branch following the Independence Day Mass July 4 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Frank Atherton, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus from St. Joseph Parish in Phoenix, sensed an atmosphere of patriotic pride and felt gratified over the prayers for the military.

“We need to restore respect for service, especially military service,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. We see a lot of soldiers coming back who need services. There are a lot of veterans committing suicide. That needs to be addressed.”

Diana Rivera from St. Raphael Parish in Glendale brought her 5-year-old grandson Zaydon to her third Independence Day Mass. She cited the importance of passing on Catholic values to the next generation.

“We need to be more pro-life,” she said. “I think more youth are getting involved and following that message. I am very hopeful.”

Military veteran Dr. Jim Asher and his wife join in praying Rosary for the United States of America following the Independence Day Mass July 4 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Once held regularly at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, the Independence Day Mass and Rosary was moved to St. Thomas to provide a more centralized location for the entire Valley. A number of faithful attended for the first time.

“God says that when a nation calls out to Him, He listens. Our country needs prayer,” said St. Agnes in Phoenix parishioner Maria Zahn. “There is a lot of corruption in government and the media. There are many agendas working against our freedoms: free speech, the right to life from the moment of conception, the right to bear arms. I hope this (Mass and Rosary) spreads to other churches and states.”

The physical rosary has traveled to all 50 states, with public Rosary services being sponsored by parishes and other apostolates from across the country such as Minnesota and New Orleans.