It wasn’t the Spokane Indians that brought thousands of people together Sunday evening at Avista Stadium, but rather the promise of worship and prayer alongside fellow Catholics from across the Inland Northwest.
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Fatima of Apparitions – an event in which the Virgin Mary was reported to have been seen by three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal – the Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade, along with the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, held a special procession in the middle of the baseball diamond, with stands filled to the brim with thousands of devoted onlookers.
“Tonight we have gathered in the name of Jesus to turn this house of baseball into a house of prayer,” said the Rev. James Kelleher, founder of the Rosary Crusade. “The family that prays together stays together.”
The evening began with people filing in slowly in the hot sun, with volunteers handing out free bottles of water. Greeting attendees were signs pointing up to the club-level seats, where priests were waiting for those seeking confession.
As the clock ticked closer to 7 p.m., the stands started to fill with people of all walks of life from across the United States.
Viola and Donald Mutch came all the way from Arizona and were visiting with family, but their first purpose was to attend Sunday’s procession. The couple in their 80s said it was good to be home, where they’ve been members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Spokane Valley for decades, despite the geographical distance.
“It’s important to have dedication to the mother,” said Viola Mutch. “And we know that the rosary is very important, too.”
From Walla Walla was Mike Neal and his kids and several grandchildren. He had a three-hour drive to look forward to after the evening was over, and work Monday morning, but that didn’t dissuade him from making the trek northward.
“We have a great dedication to the rosary and we thought it was a great opportunity to come together and offer our prayer to our lady,” he said. “It’s inspirational to see so many people who share our common faith. It’s encouraging and inspiring.”
The crowd sang several songs, including “Ave Maria” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” before Spokane Bishop Thomas Anthony Daly and several area priests entered the stadium.
It’s the first time since 1954 that such a large gathering of Catholics has taken place in Spokane, the bishop said in an interview Sunday afternoon. According to a story published in the Inland Register – now the Inland Catholic – magazine, the newly built Spokane Coliseum, where the Spokane Arena now stands, was packed with over 12,000 Catholics to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
“It was the largest number of people gathered in the history of Spokane, I believe,” Daly said.
Daly hoped to match that record Sunday.
Regardless of attendance, Daly said Sunday wasn’t about setting or beating goals, but rather gathering and praying together, no matter the number of people.
“Faith is important to people’s lives,” he said. “And that message, of a prayer for peace, and the Eucharist, that it will especially spark in people who are perhaps indifferent, a little cold, too busy about other things, is to really see the importance of God in their life.”