Catholics reaffirmed their faith in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, as they put Him on display for the whole community of Washington recently.
The June 14 Corpus Christi procession was a joint effort between two parishes in Washington. The one and a half mile procession began from the courtyard at St. Francis Borgia — which dates back to the 1830s and is nestled close to riverfront in Downtown Washington. It concluded with outdoor Benediction at Our Lady of Lourdes, founded in 1958 after Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter saw the need for another Catholic parish in the Washington community.
With the Real Presence of Jesus leading under the shade of a canopy, and escorted by the Washington police, about 250 people processed through the Downtown streets and across town as they prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet and sang hymns.
As the procession passed by John G’s Bier Deck and Tap Room Downtown, Mary Lee Ruether-Getz stood in the parking lot explaining to a restaurant patron what the Corpus Christi procession was all about. The passerby seemed confused at first, asking her if was some kind of demonstration.
“I thought, oh gosh, we used to do this years ago where the priest in our parish came out and we’d march around the church,” said Ruether-Getz, a member of St. Vincent Parish in Dutzow.
Our Lady of Lourdes pastor Father James Theby, who joined St. Francis Borgia pastor Father Joseph Wormek, and Transitional Deacon Mitchell Baer in leading the procession, said the hope is this will become an annual tradition in Washington. It was a perfect way for two parishes to come together, he added.
“We want people to love Jesus,” Father Theby said. “All we want is for people to love the Lord, and we want to bring Jesus into the streets of a broken world.”
The Corpus Christi procession is a centuries-old tradition of the Catholic faith to process the Real Presence of Jesus — the Eucharist — in public. The feast of Corpus Christi was established in Liege, Belgium, in 1247. Pope Urban IV extended it to the universal Church almost two decades later, and the Corpus Christi procession followed soon after. Centuries later, the tradition continues at many parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, including at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called the Corpus Christi feast and procession important opportunities for Catholics to reaffirm their faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“With awareness of being inadequate because of our sins, but needing to be nourished by the love that the Lord offers us in the Eucharistic sacrament … We renew our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” he said.
Ignace Eckelkamp and Eileen Shellock of St. Francis Borgia Parish were sitting outside of the Raintree Village Apartments waiting for the procession to arrive at Our Lady of Lourdes. “This is part of the Catholic faith,” Shellock said. “We’re talking about the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus never leaves His house, only if He has to. He wants people to see Him, once a year, in the streets — regardless of what faith you are. In some countries, Corpus Christi Sunday is a big celebration for the whole town. It’s like a wedding.”
Carla and Alex Filla of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine attended with their five children. With the recent health pandemic and race-related protests and riots, Carla Filla said that Jesus’ presence is so very needed right now.
“It’s important to bring Jesus out into the streets, especially during this time,” she said. “Our world is in chaos. I think our Lord can bring people peace. It’s an ancient tradition, and I think we need to go back to some of our ancient traditions and remind ourselves of what our true grounding in the world is today.”
The Corpus Christi procession is “really important for reminding people what our source of peace and hope and light is in our world today — it’s Jesus Christ,” she added. “If we can’t turn to Him, we’re not going to have true peace, and true love and true hope reigning in this world.”
Donald Morris, a third-year theology seminarian at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary who has been serving at Our Lady of Lourdes for the past year, helped organize the procession. “We wanted to show the unity of the two parishes in Washington — but also the power of saying we’re going to go from one side of town to the other with the Eucharist and consecrate the town to our Lord,” he said.