From its humble beginnings in St. Francis Xavier Parish, the Arizona Rosary Celebration has grown into an annual event that draws more than 5,000 people in devotion to Mary.

Oct. 20 marked the 44th year Catholics throughout the state gathered for confession, benediction and the recitation of the Rosary.

Under her title, “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” and in honor of the Jubilee year commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Diocese of Phoenix, families and individuals entered the Phoenix Convention Center representing a multitude of ethnic communities and organizations.

John and Margaret Mary LaCamera, from St. Daniel the Prophet Parish in Scottsdale, have participated in the public prayer honoring the Blessed Mother for the past 19 years.

“Our Lady grabbed me,” Margaret Mary said. “I heard a speaker tell the story about Our Lady of Guadalupe, and from that day on she’s been around me.”

And it’s a compelling one.

The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531 on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. She told him to ask the the missionary bishop of Mexico, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, to build a church in the place where she appeared.

The bishop told Juan to ask for a sign. When Juan saw Our Lady again she told him to go to the rocks and gather flowers, even though it was cold and flowers were not in bloom. “Juanito” obeyed and gathered them in his long cloak or “tilma” and returned to the Virgin who rearranged them and told him not to look or touch them again until he showed the bishop. As he unfolded his tilma to the bishop, the flowers fell out. Juan was shocked to see the bishop and his attendants kneeling before him so he looked at his tilma and saw a figure of the Virgin Mary as he had initially described her to the bishop.

Since she first appeared to Juan Diego resulting in the conversion of millions of indigenous throughout the Americas, the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the diocese and the Americas, continues to capture hearts and draw them nearer to her Son, Jesus.

“Tepeyac is not just in Mexico City … God intended something much bigger,” said keynote speaker Fr. Robert A. Gonzalez, parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Tucson. “We all have a tilma, every single one … because the Virgin Mary is alive in your hearts.”

Fr. Gonzalez gave an insight as to some of the many symbols associated with the image on Juan Diego’s tilma, and also took a moment to acknowledge Our Lady’s delight in the foundation of the diocese. Then Bishop Edward A. McCarthy dedicated the diocese to her patronage on her feast day, Dec. 12, 1971, two years after the diocese was established.

“Where the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits on this hill … she wanted a caisita here in the diocese and she has touched the Tepeyac soil here,” he said. “We see how the blessing comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

John Garcia, public relations director for the Knights of Columbus Arizona State Council, which sponsored the event, said it’s important to “catechize in order for people to understand what it’s all about.”

“Next year we’re going to have her under the title, ‘Our Lady Undoer of Knots,’” he said. “Under all her different titles, her message is always the same; conversion, love and forgiveness.”

Members of the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus carry the flags at the beginning of the Arizona Rosary Celebration Oct. 20 at the Phoenix Convention Center. The Knighs co-sponsored the annual event that honored diocesan patroness Our Lady of Guadalupe, framed by the flags, this year. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

The strong devotion to the mother of Jesus gave impetus to the diocese embracing an event that has not only inspired the Diocese of Tucson to begin its own celebration but attracted national attention.

Garcia said people come for a “sense of community, communion and grace.”

“It uplifts you and affirms that you are on the right track.”

People were on their feet for Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted who, along with Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, greeted the crowd with great enthusiasm.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted (right) and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares (left) join the congregation in song at the Arizona Rosary Celebration Oct. 20 at the Phoenix Convention Center. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Olmsted directed his comments to the “great moment for our diocese to celebrate 50 years.”

Although, he conceded, “there are older dioceses, like Rome, but it’s our 50 years.”

The spirit, beauty and reverence of the afternoon was not lost on the bishop’s invited guest, Bishop John S. Pazak, CSsR, of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix. The image of Mary appearing to St. Juan Diego has much in common with the Byzantine tradition of miraculous icons coming to the lowly, and her feast day is on the Byzantine calendar in the U.S., as well.

Bishop John S. Pazak, CSsR, of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix addresses the congregation at the Arizona Rosary Celebration Oct. 20 at the Phoenix Convention Center. The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe has much in common with the Byzantine tradition of miraculous icons coming to the lowliest. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

“It’s a privilege to be invited on the 50th anniversary of your diocese,” Bishop Pazak said, adding, “Seeing the banners and icons it’s a joy and true devotion.”

The event proved to be an uplifting and spiritual opportunity for many families to pass the torch of faith and tradition on to their children.

Marge Chavez from St. Juan Diego Church in Chandler, which is canonically under St. Mary Parish, said she has a strong devotion to Our Lady because of the example of her grandmother.

“There were many times throughout the years I would hand my family over to Mary,” Chavez said. “She always helps me.”