On a cool, sunny fall day, participants in a Eucharistic procession were met with awe, reverence and curiosity as they walked up and down ten blocks on the Virginia Beach boardwalk.
The beachfront was dotted with sunbathers who looked up from their towels and umbrellas. Pedestrians and bicyclists came to a halt. Tourists watched from hotel balconies and lawns. All along the path, phones were thrust into the air, photographing the approximately 350 people who professed their faith Oct. 8 by processing behind the Eucharist.
The route was from Star of the Sea (SOS), Virginia Beach, which sits at 14th Street and Pacific Avenue, to 24th Street and Atlantic Avenue and back to the church.
Some witnesses prayed as the participants of all ages passed by reciting the rosary. Several made the sign of the cross. At least two fell to their knees in reverence, and participants said they saw others.
Father Eric Ayers, episcopal vicar for the Eastern Vicariate and pastor of St. Bede, Williamsburg, led the procession, which stretched about two blocks long. Father Rob Cole, pastor of St. John the Apostle, Virginia Beach; Father Venancio “Jun” Balarote Jr., pastor of St. Nicholas, Virginia Beach; Benedictine Father Dominic Leo, parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great, Virginia Beach; Benedictine Father Cristiano Brito, parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great, Virginia Beach; Father Kevin Fimian, military chaplain; and Deacon Anacleto Magsombol, St. Luke, Virginia Beach, also participated.
Most participants walked but a few rode in strollers and wheelchairs. Some bowed their heads while they walked; some closed their eyes at times. The participants’ voices became stronger as the procession progressed. It seemed that more people joined in the prayers at each step.
Father Neal Nichols of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), pastor of St. Benedict, Chesapeake, said the procession demonstrates honor and glory in God and that “there are many blessings that pour down from heaven” during a Eucharistic procession.
Father Esteban “Steve” De Leon, pastor of SOS, which organized the event this year, said there is a decline, even among Catholics, in belief of the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament. “All the more we need to do activities like this, professing our faith,” he said.
Participating in the procession, said Father De Leon, is a “good witness to people who are having some doubts or the people who might be challenged about it.” He said the procession was one of the highlights of the activities the parish planned for the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year effort by U.S. bishops to restore faith in the true presence of the Eucharist.
“It was indeed a faithful expression and manifestation of our love for, faith in and devotion to the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist,” Father De Leon said.
Parishioners from a number of parishes across Hampton Roads said they participated in the procession for that reason.
Todd Solomon, a parishioner at Holy Family, Virginia Beach, and member of Knights of Columbus Council 10804, said the procession was a “visible sign.”
Kathryn Cheza, a parishioner at St. Nicholas, described the procession as “a beautiful expression of our spirituality.”
Brenda Salom, a parishioner at Holy Spirit, Virginia Beach, said she participated in the procession in hopes that both participants and spectators would “feel the power of the Holy Spirit and the true presence of God.”
Natalie Kotara, First Landing Chapel at Fort Story, maintains it did. She said that because spectators stopped to pay tribute, it “showed the presence of Jesus there.”
Teresa Saulinier, a parishioner at SOS, said the experience was “not just a procession but a profession of our faith in the true presence of the body and blood of Christ” in the Eucharist.
“I just felt like it was a really beautiful procession to all come together and to walk along that boardwalk and see people stop and pray with us as we walked. I could see that it moved them, and it moved me as well,” she said.
Jalen Kotchka, a freshman at Catholic High School, Virginia Beach, was an altar server at Mass preceding the procession and at the procession itself. He said the experience was a good opportunity to serve the Church and community, and was a “spiritually calming experience” which gave him time to reflect on the rosary.
SOS School’s development director, Jackie Ankley, said the idea for the boardwalk procession traces its roots back 40 years to a member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who taught at the school and envisioned such an event. However, it was not until 2012 when an alumnus started the ball rolling that the idea came to fruition, said Ankley.
Approximately 30 students from SOS School participated. Dressed in their school uniforms, they carried a banner announcing their school, which educates children from pre-K to eighth grade.
Diana Socha, assistant principal, said she hopes that “as the different generations join together, the participants welcome the young future of the Church and cherish the sharing of traditions and rituals of our faith that bring us all, young and old, closer to God.”
Mark Saulnier, who is in eighth grade at the school, was an altar server in the procession and said he enjoyed the experience and “felt it was important to be here.” His brother, fourth grader Andrew Saulnier, described the experience as beautiful, cool and long, but special.
Perhaps Tim Gavin, a parishioner at St. Benedict, summed up the procession best.
“This was a beautiful day,” he said.