From its humble beginnings in the church of St. Francis Xavier in Phoenix, Rosary Sunday has grown into an annual event that draws more than 5,000 people in devotion to Mary. Last month, Catholics in the diocese marked the 34th year the faithful throughout the state gathered for adoration, confession, benediction and the recitation of the rosary.
Under her title, “Immaculate Heart of Mary,” and in honor of the Year for Priests, families and individuals entered the Phoenix Convention Center representing a multitude of ethnic communities and organizations.
Rudy and Barbara Martinez drove 240 miles one-way from Cameron, Ariz. to participate in the public prayer honoring the Blessed Mother.
“We come because we want to show her our love and gratitude,” Barbara said. This is the fifth year the couple has made the journey from the Navajo Indian Reservation in Northern Arizona. “It’s important for us to be here together in honor of Our Lady.”
The strong devotion to the mother of Jesus gave impetus to the Phoenix Diocese embracing an event that has attracted national attention.
Dorothy Westfall, the event’s coordinator and a Legion of Mary member, fields calls from other dioceses around the country each year on how to develop advisory committees in hopes of starting a Rosary Sunday.
“People come because they see this as an opportunity for grace,” Westfall said. “Not only for themselves, but for their family, the country and the world.”
The spirit, beauty and reverence of the afternoon was not lost on the keynote speaker.
“I am very impressed. We need one of these in the Rockford Diocese,” said Fr. James Parker. “When we pray those beads, we touch the heart of the Mother of God and simultaneously touch the heart of God.”
The Illinois priest used imagery and stories to emphasize Mary’s love, concern and protection of the faithful.
“When we pray the rosary, she wraps us in her mantle,” Fr. Parker said. “When we are close to her, we are able to maintain a peace of heart.”
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.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s very presence got the crowd to their feet, but it was his words of encouragement that rang true with many.
In his opening address, the bishop said Mary will help each person as they join with Christ by offering daily sacrifices.
John and Anita Usher of St. Mary Parish in Chandler brought their eight children to their fourth Rosary Sunday.
The home-schooling troupe was joyful to be among a “community of like believers,” despite having recently lost a job and their home.
“We feel so welcomed and so blessed to honor Mary this way,” Anita said. “When you have God, what else do you need?”
The festivities are a visual and auditory array of music, singing, dancing and drumming, but nothing holds a candle to the silence that befalls 5,000 people, many on bended knee, during the benediction.
For Westfall, Rosary Sunday is about Catholic tradition. She was only eight when she attended her first rosary event in downtown Phoenix, which was also sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
Those early years have given way to a $50,000 production that needs hundreds of volunteers and sponsors.
With barely a breath taken from the moment Rosary Sunday ends, planning for next year begins.
“Each year we are blessed to have so many hands involved in this process,” Westfall said. “They come out of the woodwork to make sure it’s successful.”
Sam Marshall began praying the rosary after he was inspired by a group of women in Santa Fe, NM, more than a decade ago.
“More men need to pray the rosary, but they think it’s something women do,” he said. “We all want more, inside, than we realize. We just have all this worldly stuff that gets in the way.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix.