Beads that wrap around the world

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | October 17, 2015

The World Mission Rosary reminds us to pray for all the countries of the world

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass

Most rosaries are of one color beads; sometimes, the solitary beads — the Our Father beads — have a different color. However, there is a rosary that’s a whole splash of color — five different colors, with one for each decade (10-bead groups).

World Mission Rosary (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
World Mission Rosary (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

It’s called the World Mission Rosary and its colors are white, red, green, blue and yellow. (They don’t need to be in any particular order.) Oct. 18 is World Mission Sunday this year.

The World Mission Rosary was developed by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen when he was national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith from 1950 to 1966. On a radio show in February 1951, (“The Catholic Hour”), he introduced this rosary as a way to take a tour of the whole world and pray for the whole world at the same time. He called it a way “to embrace the world in prayer.”

The colors of the rosary were devised by the archbishop in order to do just that — think of the entire world through colors:

  • Yellow was for the countries of the East in Asia and the Middle East. The bright color symbolizes the rising of the sun and the “beginning of civilization.”
  • Green is for Africa, with its grasslands and green forests. Archbishop Sheen also noted that green “is the sacred color of the Muslims for whom we pray.”
  • White was assigned to Europe, where the Holy Father — who wears white — resides. The Maryknolls, in their missionary rosary for children, also note that white is the color that symbolizes purity of Christ and the garment that Christians wear when they are baptized.
  • Red is for North and South America, where missionaries spread the faith from Europe, led by “the fire of their faith.” The color is also meant to remind us of how many missionaries, around the world, have become martyrs for the faith.
  • Blue is the color of the world’s oceans and represents all the island nations, especially those in the Pacific and including the continent of Australia.

As Archbishop Sheen noted, “When the (World Mission) rosary is completed, one has circumnavigated the globe and embraced all continents, all people in prayer.”

One can use a World Mission Rosary to pray the traditional mysteries of the rosary: the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries. Or it can be used for the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, which were proposed by St. John Paul II in 2002 for the holy year of the rosary. The Luminous Mysteries were first developed in 1957 by Blessed George Preca, founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine, who called them “the mysteries of light.”

While any mysteries of the rosary may be used for praying the World Mission Rosary, the Maryknoll missionaries have also proposed the “Mission Mysteries” to reflect upon when praying with this rosary. These mysteries include a Scripture reading (usually from the Gospel) dealing with the work of spreading the Gospel and relating to each country (and corresponding color) represented on the World Mission Rosary. The suggested reflections are:

  • The Magi’s visit (Mt 2:1-12) for Asia (yellow);
  • The conversion of Paul (Acts 9:1-19) for Africa (green);
  • Jesus heals the centurion’s servant (Lk 7:1-10) for Europe (white);
  • Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:1-42) for the Americas (red);
  • Sending the disciples out on mission (Lk 9: 1-6) for Oceania (blue).

The rosary as a devotion has been with us for more than five centuries. We can thank the Dominican order for spreading its use across Europe in the 15th century. One of the best-known for promoting the rosary was the Dominican Alanus de Rupe (Blessed Alain de la Roche). It was he who also did much to spread the story of St. Dominic receiving the rosary from Mary at a time when Dominic despaired of his success in preaching.

The rosary itself existed long before the life of that 12th-century founder of the Dominican order, but Dominic also helped spread its use, especially in his travels from Spain to Italy. After his death in 1221, the order he founded spread the faith and a love of learning about the faith to remote parts of the world. The World Mission Rosary serves to bring all parts of the world to mind for those who pray with it, reminding us that no one is remote from God.


Sources:;; Society of the Propagation of the Faith; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; “The New Dictionary of Theology”; and the “Modern Catholic Encyclopedia.”


Related Posts

Scroll to Top