National Catholic Register
Churches at Home and Abroad Follow Pope’s Eucharistic Example
National Catholic Register
June 24-30, 2001
by TIM DRAKE
ROME — Pope John Paul II gave a big boost to Corpus Christi processions when he
led his own through Rome on June 14.
His example — and the advice he gave during last year’s Jubilee Year, which he
called “intensely Eucharistic” — was followed throughout the United States when
America celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi three days later.
“On this journey, Jesus precedes us with the gift of himself to the point of
sacrifice and offers himself as food and sustenance,” the Pope said at Mass on
the day the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated In Rome. His
procession wound from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St.
In the procession, he said, Jesus is visible in the Eucharist held in a
monstrance, but his invisible presence in people’s hearts must be made evident
through the way they live.
Similar processions were held in Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia, as well as
cities such as Front Royal, Va., the Twin Cities, and Chicago. According to
participants, the fruits of this public testimony of faith have been felt not
only by those participating in the processions, but by bystanders as well.
This public profession of the Catholic teaching on the Real Presence in the
Blessed Sacrament was first encouraged by the Council of Trent. A German
eyewitness account, from 1851, mentions the custom of children dressing as
angels to represent heavenly hosts and the tradition of the parish group
marching together as a body.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, like so many others, is continuing this
parish-wide practice on a broader level. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua planned to
celebrate Mass at St. Adalbert parish followed by a procession to four other
parishes among the Port Richmond parishes of northern Philadelphia.
“A number of parishes have had a tradition of joining together with two or three
others for a procession,” said Father Daniel Mackle, director of the office of
worship for Philadelphia. “Last year the bishops of Pennsylvania made a
commitment to continue a Corpus Christi [procession] in each of the dioceses.
The Bishops hope to continue this practice each year because of the centrality
of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”
In Front Royal, Va., home to a host of Catholic institutions, more than 500
parishioners from St. John the Baptist marched together down Main Street for
prayer and benediction at the gazebo located near the town visitors’ center
one-half mile away.
The procession began in 2000 under the leadership of Christendom associate
librarian Stephen Pilon. “I was discussing the possibility of our Knights of
Columbus council doing something spiritual for the Jubilee when someone
suggested a Eucharistic procession,” recalled Pilon. Father William Ruehl of St.
John the Baptist Catholic Church in Front Royal estimates that at least 450
people participated in the procession the first year.
This year the organizers placed an advertisement in the Arlington Catholic
Herald and also invited parishioners and priests from six neighboring parishes
to join the procession. They also involved the parish’s first communicants and a
group of young girls, known as the Little Flowers, who spread rose petals along
the procession’s pathway.
Father Ruehl believes that the procession is good not only for the parish but
also the entire town. “It demonstrates the respect that we have for Christ in
That sentiment, says Pilon, is not lost on non-Catholics. “During the procession
the entire congregation of a storefront Protestant church on Main Street came
out to see what was going on,” explained Pilon. Legion of Mary members were on
hand to answer their questions and let community members know what we were
doing. “While they didn’t believe what we believe, they were impressed that we
believed in it enough to come out and do a procession,” said Pilon.
The Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis have alternated hosting a
Eucharistic procession for the past five years. The inspiration for the
procession came from Jennifer Speltz. “Originally she wanted to walk from St.
Cloud 90 miles south to St. Paul, then the idea was whittled down to walking
from Minneapolis to St. Paul. In the end, we walked four miles, from Nativity
parish to the St. Paul Cathedral,” said Father Jim Livingston, one of the
event’s organizers. Attendance has fluctuated between 400 and 1000. This year
the procession traveled 1.5 miles from the Church of St. Olaf to the Basilica of
St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis.
While Father Livingston admitted that some folks get annoyed because they cannot
cross the street, wonderful things happen as well. “As we passed one house a
woman came out from her home, knelt down, and started crying in thanksgiving
that this was taking place.”
Brother Peter Gabriel, another of the event’s coordinators, said that there is a
marked difference in how the residents of the two cities respond to the
procession. “In St. Paul bystanders and neighbors genuflect. In Minneapolis, we
travel through a park known as a homosexual hangout and through the center of
downtown. In Minneapolis people give us looks as if we are a kind of cult. It’s
non-confrontational. We’re just bringing Christ where Christ needs to go. We are
evangelizing simply by our presence.”
“We are getting in touch with the Catholic culture that so many Catholics do not
have an awareness of and which in many areas has been dispensed with,” added Br.
Karen Atkinson agrees. She first participated when a friend asked her to play
the flute as part of the 1998 procession. “Although I was raised Catholic, at
first I couldn’t quite fathom what they were going to do. Once it took place it
very much touched my heart.” Atkinson has been involved in each procession
“We’re putting our lives on hold to spend time with Christ. As a result, my
prayer life has increased. I am much more cognizant of being in a holy state
when I receive Christ in the Eucharist, every day if I choose. I find myself
more involved in youth ministry at Church. My free time is spent either with
family or Church. My involvement has also opened me up to speaking about my
faith with my parents and siblings,” said Atkinson.
Atkinson also tells of a friend who was profoundly moved after cantoring for the
2000 procession. “Father Benedict Groeschel spoke mid-way through last year’s
procession,” said Atkinson. “That talk opened many doors for my friend and it
was a major turning point in his life.”
[Reprinted with permission.]
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