Houston Astros. Credit: Anthony Correia/Shutterstock

A Catholic parish in Houston is encouraging sports fans to pray with handmade rosaries in the colors of their favorite professional teams. They’re encouraging the Pope to pray with one too.  

Next week, a group of Houston-area pilgrims will present Pope Francis with a handmade Astros-themed rosary when they visit the pontiff on Feb. 6.
 
The story of the rosaries began when Houston hosted the 2016 Super Bowl.

“We had the idea during the Super Bowl of having candles out at a shrine that we set up for Saint Sebastian, who is the patron saint of athletes. We had orange colored candles and blue colored candles representing the two opposing teams,” explained Father Paul Felix, pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Houston.

“The object of it was just to encourage people to pray, and to include God and the life of faith in all of their activities,” he told CNA.

“I have three out of the four major sporting venues and the convention center within my parish boundaries,” Father Felix added. “I’ve been trying to seize upon these opportunities to engage the culture, to engage the people passing by us with a positive expression.”

“Tens of thousands of people pass by us...so we decided to open up the church and provided tours of the church as another way to catechize in a way that was easy for people. We opened the doors and it was wonderful...It was another way that we could get people into our church to see the beauty of the church,” Annunciation parishioner Elsie Hernandez told CNA.

With the start of the 2016 baseball season, Annunciation Church, which is located next door to the Astros’ stadium, decided to set up a table for the baseball fans passing by.

This time they were selling rosaries with the Astros team colors of blue and orange, and little white baseballs for the Our Father beads. Annunciation Church also put up a banner facing the stadium, recognizing the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, and saying ‘Pray the Rosary.”

Father Felix eventually realized that fans of the opposing teams also walked by their Church to the stadium, so the parish began offering other colored rosaries as well.

“We are praying that the other team would be good losers,” the priest joked.

As the Astros’ season took off, Annunciation’s rosary campaign began getting notice. Rumors spread in Houston that whenever the parish sold out of the rosaries, the Astros would win by a landslide. Fans began waiting in line for the rosaries before each game.

“We had players’ parents coming in to light candles for their son if he was pitching. Coaches’ wives came in to tell us stories of how they prayed during the games when things were getting really exciting,” Hernandez recounted.

“Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, came over and purchased a couple of rosaries and lit a candle. He told me that he is a Lutheran, but he has friends that are Catholic. He gives rosaries to his friends,” said Father Felix.

When Hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston, the Astros rosaries took on a new significance. Parishioners from Annunciation brought their rosaries to the nearby convention center where nearly 10,000 people were taking shelter from the flooding. “For two weeks we were having Mass there everyday...We gave thousands of rosaries away,” Hernandez said. Another Houston priest, Father Norbert Maduzia Jr., had originally planned a pilgrimage to Rome for his parishioners in September 2017. The trip was postponed when Hurricane Harvey devastated his parish, St. Ignatius, which took in about six feet of flood water.

“I had written to the Holy Father about our parish’s catastrophic loss after the hurricane and told him of our pilgrimage that was postponed due to the flooding and losses,” Father Maduzia wrote in his parish bulletin, “and in the early hours of December 26th, I received a fax from his office inviting me and the other priest to concelebrate the morning Mass with him.”

Father Maduzia and Father James Burkhart of Christ the Good Shepherd in Houston will concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis on Feb. 6. They will bring the Pope several Houston themed gifts, including an orange and blue Astros rosary.

The Pope has told reporters that his favorite sports team is the Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo, whose colors are red and blue. There is no word yet whether he will place a custom order with his Houston visitors.