KEIZER — The morning was dark and damp, as the Willamette Valley was heavily blanketed with thick fog laced with smoke. Soon, a light of hope would be cast upon some souls in western Oregon.

On the first Saturday of October, a Catholic event now in its 14th year took place on the campus of St. Edward Parish in Keizer. Because of social distancing restrictions, Rosary Bowl NW relocated from its venue at the Oregon State Fairgrounds to St. Edward Church. Nearly 300 people gathered in solidarity, led by their shepherd Archbishop Alexander Sample, promoting greater devotion to Mary the Mother of God and fostering family prayer, especially the rosary.

A haunting theme emanated throughout the two-hour program: the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, around the world, and in local neighborhoods. Invoking the intercession of Our Lady Help of All Persecuted Christians, the messages from the Mass and rosary cut to the reality of the persecuted church in modern times. In his homily, Father Gary Zerr, pastor of St. Edward, referred to the plight of the Holy Family fleeing danger in Egypt. Pointing to the dense fog outside, he asserted modern Christians too are “living in a world of fog,” and can easily fall into obscurity. He referred to approved Marian apparitions in Egypt and Belgium, recalling that Mary comes in times of great persecution and suffering in the church. It is Mary who can help us see through the fog to her Son Jesus, Father Zerr said.

The rosary hour featured Scripture readings from Esther and the beatitudes along with meditations on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.

In his message before the rosary, Archbishop Sample emphasized the Gospel phrase: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord knew of the trials his apostles would face in the beginning of their ministry and he prepared them for marginalization and suffering, the archbishop told worshippers. Today, he explained, Jesus prepares Christians for the same difficulties. While not an easy path, all are invited to take up their cross and follow Christ, the archbishop said. He concluded by encouraging the faithful to pray for the country, under the patronage of Our Lady, to protect it during these challenging days. “She is the Queen of Peace; she will protect us.”

Reactions from the crowd were unanimously positive, as people have been craving both social and spiritual interaction. In addition to the Mass and rosary, the program concluded with a time for reconciliation, as five local priests were available to hear confessions from an eager crowd.

Next year’s Rosary Bowl NW is set for Saturday, Oct. 2, the feast of the Guardian Angels. Time and location will be determined.

Hale, a Catholic speaker, is organizer of Rosary Bowl NW.