Hundreds of local Catholics put on comfortable shoes and grabbed bottles of water Sunday as they embarked on what might become a tradition – a Corpus Christi procession through downtown Fort Wayne.
The 2.7-mile procession, led by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, started at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and stopped at Headwaters Park, Most Precious Blood Parish and Queen of Angels Parish. Rhoades, who walked under a canopy carried by others, held up a consecrated Eucharistic host in a gleaming holder called a monstrance.
At every stop along the route, he performed a special blessing.
Participants, many of whom brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, sang hymns and prayed as they walked down the streets. Flower girls walked in front of Rhoades, throwing petals on the ground as they moved.
Several second-grade girls who had received their First Communion sometime in the past few months wore long white, flowing dresses.
Corpus Christi, which means body of Christ, represents the culmination of the season that includes Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost.
Corpus Christi processions through downtown Fort Wayne have not taken place in several years, although some local parishes have their own processions in church or on church grounds, a diocese spokesman said.
Sundays event was an outgrowth of Rhoades longtime interest in ministry to Hispanics, for whom the celebration holds particular significance. Rhoades has a particular devotion to Hispanic ministry, according to a diocese spokesman, and also speaks fluent Spanish.
Its a way to demonstrate our faith in a public way, said Fred Everett, an assistant to Rhoades. And it gives people who may not have been exposed something to think about.
During a Mass before the procession, Rhoades scrapped his prepared remarks and instead spoke about what the event meant to him.
While studying in Rome, he said he had the opportunity to walk with Pope John Paul II during the Corpus Christi procession twice, the second time as a deacon, carrying the canopy over the popes head. The pope told him the Eucharist is the center of life, he said, and underscored the importance of carrying Christ out into the streets.
Rhoades said he believed that Fort Waynes procession, which took place under the beating sun, was the longest of its kind in the country.
Dont get discouraged, he told the congregation before the walk. This is for the Lord.
Beth Peters, 32, participated in the procession along with her husband and three daughters. Her 8-year-old daughter Magnolia was a flower girl.
We really like the message of how important the Eucharist is in the Catholic faith, she said. We live a few blocks from downtown so it was nice to see it come through our neighborhood. I thought that was neat.
The diocese will likely alternate between holding the procession in Fort Wayne and South Bend, a spokesman said. Last year, a similar event was held in South Bend.
This is the first Ive ever heard of it and I thought it was an awesome idea, said Tina Allen, 49. Were carrying Christ through the streets.