By Natalie Romano
ALTA LOMA—While you’re nestled in bed next Saturday morning thinking about coffee, parishioners of St. Peter and Paul in Alta Loma are lacing up their sneakers and thinking about prayer.
These dedicated “Rosary Runners” gather each weekend to exercise both their bodies and their faith.
“I get to be with God. I get to be with my friends. Everything about it is right,” says ministry leader Danny Centurioni.
On a warm morning in June, sunlight dapples through the trees of Upland’s Bridle Path. More than a dozen Rosary Runners arrive, greeting each other with hellos and hugs. They form a semicircle as Centurioni leads them in the Apostle’s Creed, the opening prayer of the Rosary. After the remaining introductory prayers and personal intentions, they take off. Some run, some walk, but all feel passionate about their band of beads.
“I call it my weapon,” says Bob Emery. “The Rosary is just a powerful weapon. Mary has helped us through so many tough times.”
That desire to reach out to Mary is a common sentiment among the group. Tyler Norwood joined the ministry two years ago.
“I get a sense of peace out of praying the Rosary,” he says. “Whenever I feel like there are challenges in my life, I just become at ease knowing the Blessed Mother is able to intervene and talk to God for me.”
At 23 years old, Norwood is one of the youngest Rosary Runners. He easily trots along the five mile route but without any arrogance of youth. In fact, he views the others as mentors.
“I’m here with men who are like older brothers who guide me in the right direction on how to progress in my faith,” he says.
As the Rosary Runners fan out over the trail, passersby largely pay them no mind.
“Some people just look at us, some people say God bless you and some people actually stop and join us,” says Centurioni.
He likes to call this public praying a sort of “passive evangelization.”
“I think it gives everyone else permission to pray. No matter what’s going on with your life, you have recourse to this power and this help.”
About three years ago, Centurioni and several other parishioners met at a retreat and got inspired to turn their mutual love of faith and fitness into a ministry. Their time on the trail led to love of another sort.
“Amy and I were not married yet, we weren’t even courting. We think the other couples got this ministry together to get me and Amy together,” Centurioni chuckles.
The couple, now expecting, even took their engagement photos at the Runners’ halfway mark. This sort of prayer pitstop allows the group to continue praying the Rosary before heading back down the trail. While the Centurionis’ are months away from bringing baby, the Emery’s tote three children along with the requisite sling, stroller and snacks. While Natalie Emery says it’s not easy getting the little ones up and out the door, it’s well worth the effort.
“It brings me joy to see my kids hold their Rosaries and watch as we say the Rosary as a group. It shows my children you may be busy but you don’t have to give up prayer and you don’t have to give up fitness. You can have a healthy happy lifestyle.”
And that idea may be catching on. First timer John Leach from San Secondo d’Asti Parish in Ontario came on a personal mission of improving body and soul.
“It was beautiful. The fellowship was really great especially combined with our Blessed Mother and the Rosary. It just felt like an amazing way to bring together community and faith and friends.”
Will he be back? “For sure,” Leach replies with a smile.
When the group reaches the bottom of the path, they finish their prayers and leave with lifted spirits, says Natalie Emery.
“It changes everything. You start off like this and your whole day is set. You’re ready to battle whatever comes your way.”
Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.