Holy Cross, Lynchburg, takes to the streets for Corpus Christi

Holy Cross, Lynchburg, parishioners in procession on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 2, 2024. (Photo/Joe Staniunas)

Before the start of the regular 11 a.m. Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi June 2, Jeff Pratuch stood at the ambo and said she had a question for her fellow parishioners at Holy Cross, Lynchburg.

“Are you ready to make history?” she asked. The answer was a solid “yes,” followed by a more resounding, “Amen.”

The response came after she had outlined the plan for the first outdoor Eucharistic procession in the 150-year history of the parish. A newspaper account from 1913 does describe “men of the parish” accompanying “the Holy Sacrament in procession around the aisles of the church.” But if such a procession has ever taken place along the streets of the Hill City, neither history nor living memory has an account of it.

Skies were gray, threatening a light rain, but Pratuch said drizzle would not delay the march. “We have a waterproof canopy for the Blessed Sacrament,” she said. “Jesus won’t melt, and neither will you.”

But first came Mass, with the homily delivered by Father Sal Añonuevo, the pastor of Holy Cross. The celebration of the Eucharist “is where we get our power as God’s children,” he said.

“This is where we get our strength, as we continue our day to day lives, facing the challenges and trials that may come our way,” Father Añonuevo continued. “Today, the feast of Corpus Christi, [celebrating] the body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus, we’re going to witness not only here in our church but also in the city of Lynchburg.”

Following Communion, the procession of about 300 people formed outside, a cross bearer flanked by altar servers followed by Father Añonuevo carrying the Blessed Sacrament under the canopy, accompanied by Deacon Arturo Fernandez-Lopez and Deacon Chris Murphy.

Next came children who had recently made their first Communion with their families, groups including the Knights of Columbus, members of the Hispanic community and the Ladies of Charity, followed by the rest of the parishioners. During the half-mile walk, the marchers sang hymns and recited a litany. Staying mostly on sidewalks, the walkers would pause every block or so for Father Añonuevo to make the sign of the cross with the monstrance, including at the city’s Monument Terrace.

“It’s been the site of a lot of healing, a lot of reconciliation and a lot of efforts to bring peace to the city and to the nation,” Pratuch said.

Holy Cross, Lynchburg, pastor Father Sal Añonuevo with the Holy Eucharist in a monstrance on the feast of Corpus Christi in Lynchburg, June 2, 2024. (Photo/Joe Staniunas)

Preparing the way of the Lord

The idea for the procession grew out of the parish’s commitment to the National Eucharistic Revival, the initiative started by U.S. bishops in 2022 to deepen the faithful’s understanding and appreciation for the Blessed Sacrament.

Like many parishes in the diocese, Holy Cross added more hours of adoration and benediction. Members of the revival committee started talking about having an outdoor Eucharistic procession, which some had experienced in other places.

“For the Holy Cross Catholic community, to go out and make ourselves known was incredibly important,” said Barb Hoyer, another of the procession organizers.

In recent years, downtown Lynchburg has seen occasional violence. In April, one man was killed and another wounded in a shooting in a parking lot on Main Street, just a couple of blocks from Holy Cross.

“If we can take Jesus on the road, so to speak, maybe it will provide a blessing to the city,” said Pratuch.

They discussed timing this to the feast that gave the parish its name, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, in September. But they soon realized they couldn’t get the required permission from the city in time and decided the feast of Corpus Christi, a common occasion for outdoor processions, would be best.

Holy Cross is one of several churches within a few blocks of each other. Father Añonuevo said he sent a letter to neighboring congregations describing the plans for the walk.

“I told them that as we process around downtown Lynchburg, we don’t only pray for Catholics, we pray for everybody,” he said. “Of course, they don’t believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. That’s where we have some differences. But we all believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.”

Spreading the love of Jesus

The streets were almost empty – no traffic, just a couple of spectators who paused to watch with respect, and not a drop of rain. As the parishioners made their way back to their church on Clay Street, Father Añonuevo stopped just outside the entrance for one final blessing before finishing with benediction inside.

“You will be a part of history,” the pastor had said in his homily. “And you will say to your relatives, friends, children, grandchildren, that the very first time that the Lord Jesus walked in downtown Lynchburg, ‘I was there with him’ in his real presence in the Eucharist.”

Among those walking with Jesus was altar server and Liberty University student Sam Lemire, who said the procession was a way “we can go out, we can spread the light, the love, and the truth of Jesus to our community through Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Richard Bordeaux, a member of the parish for over 25 years, was another of the people who wanted “to be able to go out and meet people, bless the people around us.” Walking with Jesus, as his disciples did thousands of years ago, was “just such a warm feeling,” he said.

Hoyer said the parish will probably make this an annual tradition. “Everybody pulled together, helped by the Holy Spirit, and I’m amazed,” she said. “I feel blessed to help make this happen.”


Read about other Corpus Christi processions around the diocese.


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