June 3, 2022

Archdiocesan Catholics show ‘eucharistic love’ in Corpus Christi processions

Franciscan Father Frank Jasper leads members of Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg on May 24, 2006, in a Corpus Christi procession. The Batesville deanery faith community has had held such processions annually since 1846. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Franciscan Father Frank Jasper leads members of Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg on May 24, 2006, in a Corpus Christi procession. The Batesville deanery faith community has had held such processions annually since 1846. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By Sean Gallagher

Since the Diocese of Vincennes, Ind. (which later became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis) was founded in 1834 to today, Catholics from around the world have come here to live out their faith.

An important public religious tradition by which they have done this is an outdoor eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally known as Corpus Christi.

On June 19, the feast of Corpus Christi this year, Catholics from across central and southern Indiana will take part in a eucharistic procession in the heart of downtown Indianapolis from SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral to St. John the Evangelist Church. It is part of the start in the archdiocese of the three-year National Eucharistic Revival. (For more information about the start of the National Eucharistic Revival in Indianapolis on June 19, visit eucharisticrevivalindy.org.)

The June 19 procession will be the latest expression of the love and devotion that Catholics in the archdiocese have had for the Eucharist for 188 years, and their desire to pass that on to the next generation and the broader community.

‘We had the body and blood of Christ’

The first recorded Corpus Christi procession that took place at Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg was in 1846, just 12 years after the Diocese of Vincennes was founded.

German Catholic immigrants who settled in the new village that year began a tradition that has continued uninterrupted to this day that is rooted in the centuries-old custom of eucharistic processions in Germany.

That includes a three-volley shotgun salute by a Schiesser Kompanie (“Shooter Company”) to honor the Trinity during Benediction at altars along the route that winds its way along the borders of the town.

Holy Family parishioner Mary Gehring has helped to coordinate the procession for more than 20 years and is proud of how it has continued every year, even in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve kept it going—rain, shine or major disease,” Gehring said. “We’ve not missed a year, through the Civil War, World War I or World War II.”

She noted that the procession isn’t simply an expression of civic pride in Oldenburg, but rooted deeply in the Catholic faith.

“It really reflects what we believe in so much,” Gehring said. “The town was founded on the Catholic faith. That was what kept it going, the people who made it the beautiful little village that it is, through fires, floods and famines.

“We had the body and blood of Christ. And we’ve done this every year to renew our faith.”

Still, during her time in organizing the procession, Gehring has said that there have been challenges that have put the longstanding custom into question.

“But I’ve always come back and prayed, ‘OK God. This is for you. We believe in you. Help us out a little here,’ ” she said. “And he does. I don’t worry about it anymore.”

Passing on a gift

William Selm, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, grew up as a member of St. Michael Parish in Brookville. He had family members who lived in Oldenburg going back to the Civil War.

So, each year in his youth he and his family would drive to Oldenburg for the Corpus Christi procession. His memories of “the incense, the singing, the bell ringing and the shot guns” remain sharp decades later.

“The Corpus Christi tradition in Oldenburg was a gift to me, a real gift,” said Selm. “And it wasn’t just my family’s ties to Oldenburg, but the great tradition of the Church, especially with German immigrants. It was a wonderful thing.”

Selm passed that gift on to his children when he and his family would return to Oldenburg to take part in the annual procession.

In more recent years, though, he has helped to organize Corpus Christi processions at St. Joan of Arc.

“It’s a dream come true,” Selm said. “I’m almost moved to tears. Last year, we had several hundred parishioners processing. It was humbling, really.

“It’s a public expression of our love and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Then, when you take it to the streets, you’re sharing that.”

‘Eucharistic love’

When Father Michael Keucher was ordained a priest in 2015, he was determined that he would have a Corpus Christi procession every year.

That wasn’t because of his experience of such processions growing up. He knew very little about Corpus Christi processions until he spent a summer in Guatemala as a seminarian.

One parish in the city where he was staying organized a procession for Corpus Christi Sunday.

“That procession closed down the entire city for that weekend,” Father Keucher recalled. “And then each church in the city would take a turn having a procession for the next several weekends.”

Taking part in those processions opened his heart to the power of this Catholic tradition.

“It was so beautiful, Jesus hitting the streets,” Father Keucher said. “You had such a large crowd literally following our Lord. People on the side of the streets would kneel and put their hands in the air as soon as they caught sight of the Blessed Sacrament. That was eucharistic love.”

He’s organized Corpus Christi processions each year since he became pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville in 2017. Hundreds of parishioners take part in the procession, many of them Hispanic Catholics like those he witnessed in Guatemala.

Father Keucher is glad to see the love for the Eucharist so evident in Hispanic Catholics in Shelbyville. It is also being renewed in the parishioners whose families have been rooted in St. Joseph for generations.

“The public expression of our faith is part and parcel of who we are as Catholics,” he said. “It has to include that. It’s inspiring for me to see so many parishioners really want that. That’s who we are as Catholics.”

James Velez, coordinator of Hispanic ministry at St. Joseph, has grown in his love of the Eucharist since becoming a member of the Batesville Deanery faith community in 2005 and has grown to appreciate the same devotion in his fellow Latino Catholics in Shelbyville.

“They want to share what they have,” Velez said. “They don’t want their customs to die off. This is an immigrant country. That’s the beauty of the United States, how we incorporate all those different cultures and their ethnic background into what we are as a community.”

For St. Joseph parishioner America Diaz, the most important people she wants to pass on a love of the Eucharist to is her children. Taking them to the annual Corpus Christi procession in Shelbyville is one way of doing that.

“It’s really important for us,” Diaz said of the annual procession. “We enjoy doing it. Every time we do it, I think we have the Holy Spirit coming down upon every person. It’s amazing.

“It’s important to let them know that it’s Jesus [we adore] on Corpus Christi. We need that. If you teach that when they’re little, then they’ll grow up with it.”

Allowing Jesus ‘to take center stage’

This year, St. Joseph Parish will have its Corpus Christi procession on the evening of June 18 so that parishioners can take part in the procession in Indianapolis the following day.

Father Keucher is helping to coordinate the June 19 procession and is looking forward to the Blessed Sacrament being taken in procession throughout the streets of downtown Indianapolis.

“The possibilities with this procession are beautiful,” he said. “It’s going to be a lovely witness to the biggest city in Indiana of the Church’s love of the Eucharist.

“It’s a good way to start the Eucharistic Revival in such a public way, to allow Jesus to take center stage on the streets with us following him and kneeling along the side.”

After seeing the beauty of Corpus Christi processions in Shelbyville, Velez is excited about experiencing it on the streets of Indianapolis.

“I’ll be there and I’m promoting it here at St. Joseph,” Velez said. “It’s going to have a huge impact with so many people who will see the faith of people walking with the Blessed Sacrament.

“It may steer their hearts to come to or come back to the Church or to just spend an hour with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

(For more information about the start of the National Eucharistic Revival in Indianapolis on June 19, visit eucharisticrevivalindy.org.) †

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