Brightly colored banners fluttered in the breeze as the tinkling of altar bells and hundreds of voices soaring in song accompanied a profession of faith Sunday in the streets of Omaha.
Catholics from all over the city joined in the seventh annual Feast of Corpus Christi procession as it traveled nearly 1½ miles from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church at 2110 S. 32nd Ave. to St. Peter Catholic Church at 2706 Leavenworth St. The procession — which celebrates the Eucharist, or body of Christ — stopped for a Benediction at the Gerald R. Ford Birthsite and again in Hanscom Park.
Jenny Leuschen, a choir member from St. Peter, has been a part of the procession every year. She said it reminds her of the Italian neighborhood in Des Moines where she grew up.
“Back then you would see all the streets of the neighborhood decorated and even little altars set up on porches,” Leuschen said. “This procession is a way of blessing the whole neighborhood as we walk through.”
John Flaherty, another member of the St. Peter parish, said he grew up without experiencing anything like the procession and now eagerly awaits each year's march.
He said it feels “like the Catholic community grows in unity a little more each time.”
Knights of Columbus in white shirts with red sashes carry a canopy that flutters above a golden vessel called a monstrance, in which the Eucharist or communion wafer is held. A priest lifts the monstrance high for everyone to see.
Fabio Garaycochea of the Knights of Columbus said the canopy promotes spirituality and the solemnity of having the Eucharist outside the tabernacle. He believes that the display helps promote an interest in religion.
“The body of Christ is actually coming out of the church and into the streets,” Garaycochea said. “A lot of times there are people who, for whatever reason, cannot get to the church. Some people will drop to their knees, and many others stand and watch with reverence.”
Perhaps the most famous Eucharistic procession is presided over by the pope each year in Rome. It begins at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and makes its way to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where it concludes with a Benediction.
The Rev. Damien Cook, pastor of St. Peter Church, said the Feast of Corpus Christi began in the 13th century after doubts about the legitimacy of the Eucharist began gaining traction. It was reinvigorated when Pope John Paul II declared 2005 to be the year of the Eucharist.
“We go through the neighborhood in the weeks and days before the procession so people will know what's going on,” Cook said. “The magnetism of the event is very touching.”
Light rain did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the approximately 600 people who were part of the procession to St. Peter Church. The city's Catholic radio station broadcast music and prayers over loud speakers, and many in the crowd joined in.
Near the front of the procession were children who had recently received their first communion. The girls wore starched white dress, and the boys looked solemn in black slacks and white shirts with ties. All carried small baskets filled with flower petals that they sprinkled on the street.
Fireworks were set off and confetti streamed down from above as the procession flowed through the doors at St. Peter, where a final Benediction was given.
Cook said the march into the church always produces a euphoric feeling. This year wasn't any different.
“It sort of feels like you're walking into heaven or as close to heaven as we can imagine,” he said. “There's just a great sense of community and jubilation.”
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