The heat beating down on the backs of over 250 men couldn’t stop them sacrificing their Saturday afternoon to celebrate two years of the men’s rosary crusade.
Sydney began to publicly pray the rosary in the forecourt of St Mary’s Cathedral on the first Saturday of every month at 1pm, known as the men’s rosary crusade.
“It’s a sacrifice because it’s going to cost you something. It has to. And it costs your most valuable gift—your time” said Ivica Kovac, Life Marriage and Family Officer with the Archdiocese of Sydney, crusade leader and member of Sydney’s Croatian Catholic community.
The initiative began in 2021 with the Knights of the Precious Blood, a lay men’s movement drawn from the Croatian community.
Ivica and other members of the knights were inspired by lay Catholics in Poland and Ireland praying the rosary in the harshest of weather conditions.
“We didn’t overthink it. We knew about the first Saturday devotion and a few things started to come together, and we just went,” he said.
“There was about 30-35 of us in that first gathering, and now it’s gone to a whole other level.”
The first Saturday devotion comes from the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima where Mary revealed her heart pierced with thorns as a result of the offences and blasphemies against it.
“So, then the question from God is, who is going to pull out those thorns?”
Now hundreds of men spend the beginning of each month answering the call, offering reparation and repentance to God in honour of Our Lady.
“Just like you’d pull out bindis from your kid’s feet—you wouldn’t leave them there. This is our act of reparation.”
Many walking by or visiting the cathedral stopped in silent admiration of the feat, taking in the witness of faith to Mary in front of the mother church of Australia, which carries her name.
On their knees for close to an hour, many men have grown accustomed to the hard concrete floor of the cathedral’s forecourt, offering the pain up in their prayer.
Others come prepared with towels, backpacks, garden kneeling pads or even soccer shinpads to help persist in their devotion.
“You need discomfort for growth, and this is certainly a case for that,” said Vasili Pantelidis, who attended the Sydney crusade for the first time over the weekend.
A protestant convert to Catholicism, Vasili heard about the event through a friend and said that an appreciation for Our Lady was an essential element to being closer with her son.
“A severe lack of meaning, a lack of virtues and values can be restored and found in Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and I have come to appreciate very greatly what Our Lady has done for us in bringing us to him,”
This year also saw the crusades’ biggest ever crowd of over 500 people during the month of October, traditionally dedicated to the rosary and feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and a new statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought to the crusade.
Over the years, crusade leader Ivica has seen the rising attendance of men at different stages in their spiritual life.
Even those who are not religious but wish to find out more have been attracted to the power of communal prayer.
“There’s certainly a good number of men that now come who had fallen away from the church, but for some reason, God only knows, they feel like they can come to this,” he said.
“After one time, a man came and asked me what the New Testament was.
“If he wasn’t there, he would most probably be too embarrassed to ask someone else in a normal setting, but for some reason this brotherhood opened his heart to ask and find out more.”
For members of the crusade, the journey remains as always to go to Christ through his mother.
“It’s all about the Eucharist, and Mary leads us back just like any mum.
“Because where’s she going to lead you back to? On the path to her loving son. We just need to remain faithful and persevere.”