“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
~ John 6:51
HIGHLAND – With every step they took, nearly 500 Catholics participating in the Diocese of Gary’s Eucharistic Procession on June 19 reaffirmed their belief that the bread and wine brought to the altar is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ at the consecration of the Mass.
“It was a beautiful gathering of the faithful, honoring the Lord and encouraging each other while giving public witness as we proceeded,” said Bishop Robert J. McClory. Leading the way, he carried a wooden monstrance displaying the Blessed Sacrament under a ceremonial canopy the entire 1.5-mile length of the procession which began at Our Lady of Grace and ended at St. James the Less for benediction and a festive picnic.
“The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and when we gather at Mass, we’re able to receive Jesus and be sent on a mission,” explained the bishop.
As the National Eucharistic Revival continues through 2024, Bishop McClory also revealed that next year, the plan for the Diocese of Gary is to encourage and support parish processions to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, based on the success of this year’s diocesan procession. “I was delighted that we had such a broad cross section of the diocese represented,” he noted.
That broad cross section included Tom Sienkowski of Queen of All Saints in Michigan City, a city strongly represented by groups not only carrying the QAS banner, but banners and signs signaling the participation of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart.
“You can never go wrong doing more for Christ, and I feel like this (procession) is giving a bit more, giving a little extra,” Sienkowski said as he prepared for the walk. “I am literally following Christ, with him in front of us. He gives us so much that he deserves for us to give him praise and glory.
“We have wonderful weather, the sun is shining; he is setting the stage for us,” added Sienkowski. “God is our Father, and today is Father’s Day.”
The Eucharistic Procession began with walkers gathering at Our Lady of Grace for a “Call to Worship” in music, followed by the solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, scripture readings and a homily by Bishop McClory.
“What would we say we are doing today? How could we use this to share the Good News of Christ?” asked the bishop. “Today we have nothing less than the Savior of the World accompanying us.
“We take seriously that Jesus said, ‘This is my Body.’ We know that it is no longer bread, but under the auspices of bread, Jesus himself,” Bishop McClory added. (As you walk, if people ask) ‘Why are you walking with that piece of bread?’ (your answer is) ‘No, this is Jesus!’
“We begin our celebration with song, we begin our celebration with prayer, and most importantly, we begin our celebration with joy,” he concluded.
As walkers prepared to form the procession in front of the church, a pep rally of sorts sent them forth. “May our hearts burn with the love of God today,” said Bishop McClory. “I pray that today we bring that love of Christ to others.”
Father Kevin Huber, chancellor of the diocese, referred to Pope St. Paul VI in seeking how to bring wayward Catholics and new believers into the Church: “He said that we need teachers and witnesses willing to step forward in our communities to say that the Lord is here. As we know from the seventh of the bishop’s Ten Principles of Missionary Discipleship, we should be joyful witnesses. Today is the day to do that.”
That’s exactly what Deacon Gary Wolfe, ordained just two weeks earlier, was ready to do as he performed the ceremonial duties of exposing the Blessed Sacrament and walking with the bishop. “This is such a blessing, it’s historic, and I can’t wait to see it,” he said of the Diocesan Eucharistic Procession. “The Eucharist is the center of our faith.”
Dave Leydet, a Merrillville resident and parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville, is commander of the Knights of Columbus color corps, called the Eucharistic Procession “an outward expression of our faith. Carrying Christ down the road (confirms our belief) that the Real Presence of Christ is in the Body and Blood.”
Coming from St. Mary in Crown Point, Caroline Jurcak “felt drawn to the Eucharistic Procession. I wanted to celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ with everybody and the community.” Noting that she was earlier separated from the Catholic Church for a number of years, “I went to confession in 2003 and I asked if I could receive Holy Communion,” she recalled. “That brought me back into the Church. People take the Eucharist for granted, but when you haven’t received it for a while, there is an emptiness. I realized how much I’d missed it.”
As the procession proceeded south on Kennedy Avenue, a group of women waited along the road to welcome the walkers at St. James the Less.
Sheila Jeffers, of St. Maria Goretti in Dyer, recalled growing up in a village in Ireland, where a Corpus Christi Procession was held annually. “It was a big event,” she said. “First Communicants wore their white dresses and everyone brought flowers. Flower petals were strewn along the road to make way for Jesus. The whole parish came out, as we did for the May Crowning and procession.”
As the procession arrived for benediction, Father Greg Bim-Merle, pastor at St. James the Less, led the way into the church for song, the recitation of the Litany of the Holy Eucharist and The Divine Praises and the reposition of the Blessed Sacrament into the tabernacle.
Ending the celebration was a picnic hosted by the St. James the Less Knights of Columbus, giving the walkers an opportunity for fellowship.
Sharing a Father’s Day lunch with his daughter Kelly Venegas, Bob Wilhelm of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Valparaiso was delighted to join the Eucharistic Procession. “I was invited to spend Father’s Day together by my daughter,” who said she told her dad “that we’re going for a walk with Christ.”
“At first, I wasn’t used to walking that slowly, but you get absorbed as you hear the people singing and praying the rosary,” Wilhelm added.
Sisters Judy Wojcikiewicz of St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville and Ruth Alms of St. James the Less were joined by cousin Joyce Oboy of Our Lady of Grace for the procession and picnic. “I believe in The Real Presence, and I wanted to express my belief and be a witness,” Oboy said. “It was great, exhilarating and a little warm, but I could see the monstrance, which made it special.”
Wojcikiewicz said, “It really made me feel good (to celebrate the Eucharist) on my 73rd birthday. I came for the experience, and to see what it was all about, and I’m happy I came.”
Alms said she joined the Eucharistic Procession “to enrich my soul with God. I came to affirm my belief in God. It was truly a humbling experience. To hear the singing was uplifting, and it’s good to know people still believe in God.”
Bishop McClory offered a personal message of gratitude following the procession: “I pray this procession will strengthen our own faith and serve as an impetus to share that faith with others. It made me very grateful to be the bishop of the Diocese of Gary, and it is a memory I will cherish.”