Witnessing the impact of a Chicago parish’s first Eucharistic procession

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Worshippers from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish take part in a Eucharistic procession on the feast of Corpus Christi in Chicago's Chinatown June 2, 2024. (OSV News photo/Simone Orendain)

CHICAGO (OSV News) — In a small corner of the Midwest, our parish is taking part in the national effort of the Catholic Church to create a renewed awareness of and interest in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi, our parish in Chicago held its first Eucharistic procession.

It was a two-mile walk June 2 from St. Therese Church in Chinatown southwest to St. Barbara Church in the Bridgeport neighborhood. The two churches merged in 2019 to form St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish and this day also commemorated the fifth anniversary of the combined parish. It was fitting that some of the Missionaries of Charity sisters (the Mother Teresa sisters), whose spirituality is built on Jesus’ “thirst (or love) for souls,” headed the procession.

A reverent procession through bustling streets

The sunlit streets of Chinatown were bustling with the usual Sunday crowds of tourists and visitors. But as we passed with the body and blood of Jesus Christ encased in the gold sunburst of a monstrance embedded with pink jewels and small images of saints, shaded by a canopy, chatter on the main street and storefronts quickly quieted down to soft murmurs and even silence.

Worshippers from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish take part in a Eucharistic procession on the feast of Corpus Christi in Chicago’s Chinatown June 2, 2024. (OSV News photo/Simone Orendain)

Our little procession of about 150 lay faithful, religious and clergy walked along, praying the Rosary, led by a liturgist in full sacristan outfit swinging a thurible emitting a trail of incense.

I was jogging ahead of the group with my camera trying to get a good “clean shot” of Jesus Christ in the monstrance. I was so focused on getting the picture. Thanking God for the cooler temperatures that kept the sun from baking off my arms, I just kept trying to press ahead along the margins looking for some step or any riser I could climb on top of to take a better long-range shot.

Moments of faith and witness

As I moved, I noticed a young woman standing between a light post and a parking meter pay station. She smiled as she looked at the procession. She quickly made the sign of the cross, held her hands together and closed her eyes when Jesus passed by. Then a young man, phone outstretched, moved quickly to the edge of our group and took a few pictures as the canopy shading Jesus passed.

In between saying prayers and taking pictures, I took a better look at our surroundings and saw people in restaurants who turned in their seats and looked out of storefront windows, craning their necks for a glimpse of Jesus. The expressions on their faces looked as if they knew who it was or at least knew that there was something very reverent happening.

We continued to pray, along the road over the highway. We continued to chant, “Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Come to him and never be hungry. Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Trust in him and you will not thirst.”

Everywhere I looked I saw the same solemn, respectful gaze. Some people were clearly Catholic. They smiled or bowed their heads. Others looked on with respectful curiosity in their eyes. One man looked down and turned his head away.

A guy on a bike rode by and yelled, “God bless you!” Some in our group yelled back the same thing. We continued on, into the quieter residential neighborhoods where people came out of their front doors, stood on their porches and silently watched. A few neighbors had their phones trained on us, taking pictures and maybe taking video.

We passed by a park, where kids playing pickleball stopped and ran from the tennis courts to watch the procession. One little girl still holding a paddle and ball tried to join the procession but a woman, maybe her mom, put a hand on her shoulder and gently pulled her back.

My sister told me one of our parish staff approached two older men who watched, spoke to them and then handed them rosaries and that they nodded their heads and smiled.

We pressed on, flanked by Chicago police escorts of at least four police bikers, some of whom prayed along with us, and a couple of squad cars.

Reflecting on the experience

Finally, we arrived at St. Barbara Church. A friend and I plunked ourselves down on a wooden pew, waiting for the final blessing with Jesus in the monstrance.

“We made it,” she exclaimed. This dear lady, who has been battling kidney disease for more than 10 years since her young adulthood completed the pilgrimage for Jesus.

Looking around the church and seeing the faithful gathered there, and later finding out that the expected number of attendees was only 50 to 80, I was filled with hope. I was hopeful after what I saw this day, that the body and blood of Jesus Christ was not going to remain relegated to a mere symbol, as a recent study found.

Looking ahead to the National Eucharistic Congress

Maybe that 2019 Pew Research study that found just 31% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist would be proven wrong. Maybe the efforts of the National Eucharistic Revival — with its four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes in full swing and the National Eucharistic Congress to come — is bearing fruit.

At different points along the pilgrimage routes, large groups, some in the thousands, have joined in walking in procession with the Blessed Sacrament.

The four routes will converge on Indianapolis on July 16 for the start of the congress, five days of immersion in the meaning of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith.

In Chicago, as our pastor who held the monstrance in the procession told me afterward, “I was focused on Jesus and I prayed for the neighborhoods and families we passed by … and for people to be more open to God.”

Simone Orendain

Simone Orendain writes for OSV News from Chicago.