The Procession of the Holy

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday led a procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi through the streets of Rome. Today, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz led a similar procession of some 10,000 people through the streets of Minsk in Belarus, under a gentle rain. Reflections on the meaning of “becoming the Eucharist” in a secularized age…

 
By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

Editor’s note: We will be reporting more often from Rome during the next few weeks, during the days leading up to the Pope’s important encyclical on the Church’s social teaching. Today, the opening report in this series is on the Eucharist, source of summit of our faith. —The Editor

On Thursday evening, June 11 — the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, which is celebrated on Sunday (today) in the United States, Australia, and a number of other countries — Pope Benedict XVI, after driving in a car from the Vatican across Rome to St. John Lateran, celebrated Mass on the square in front of the basilica (photo), then led a Eucharistic procession to the basilica of St. Mary Major.

Today, in Belarus, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz led a similar procession for four and a half hours through the streets of Minsk, accompanied by some 10,000 Catholic faithful, despite a steady rain.

 
The ceremony of a public eucharistic procession has in recent decades become less common, but these two processions, and many others elsewhere, suggest the return of this manifestation of popular eucharistic piety in the public squares of the world.
 
In his homily, Pope Benedict commented on the words pronounced by priests at the moment of consecration: “This is My Body… This is My Blood.”
 
Addressing his remarks to priests, the Holy Father said: “Becoming the Eucharist: let this be our constant desire and commitment!
 
“So that the offer of the Body and Blood of the Lord we make upon the altar may be accompanied by the sacrifice of our own lives.
 
“Every day we draw from the Body and Blood of the Lord the free and pure love that makes us worthy ministers of Christ and witnesses to His joy. What the faithful expect from a priest is the example of authentic devotion to the Eucharist. They like to see him spend long periods of silence and adoration before Jesus, as did the saintly ‘Cure of Ars’ whom we will especially recall during the imminent Year for Priests.”
 
The Pope continued: “Aware that, because of sin, we are inadequate, yet needing to nourish ourselves from the love the Lord offers us in the Eucharistic Sacrament, this evening we renew our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Such faith must not be taken for granted!”
 
He added: “Today there is a risk of insidious secularization, even inside the Church. This could translate into a formal but empty Eucharistic worship, in celebrations lacking that involvement of the heart which finds expression in veneration and respect for the liturgy.  
 
“There is always a strong temptation to reduce prayer to superficial and hurried moments, allowing ourselves to be overcome by earthly activities and concerns,” he warned.
 
“With the Eucharist, heaven comes down to earth, God’s tomorrow descends into the present moment and time is, as it were, embraced by divine eternity.”
 
After Mass, the Pope presided at the Eucharistic procession along Rome’s Via Merulana to the basilica of St. Mary Major. Along the route, thousands of faithful prayed and sang accompanying the Blessed Sacrament. A covered vehicle transported the Sacrament in a monstrance, before which the Holy Father knelt in prayer (photo).
 
Benedict did not hide his joy at being able to accompany the Blessed Sacrament along the path to St. Mary Major; he invited the faithful to raise up this prayer: “Stay with us, Christ, give to us the gift of yourself and give us the bread that nourishes us for eternal life. Free this world from the venom of evil, of violence and of hate, which contaminate consciences; purify this world with the power of your merciful love.” 
 
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Today, in Belarus, generally regarded as one of the most strictly-controlled, authoritarian states in the world, a similar procession followed Archbishop Kondrusiewicz. (Photo, left: this photo of the archbishop is not from today, but from another recent procession.)
 
“It was raining, but there were a lot of people,” Kondrusiewicz told me a few minutes ago by telephone. “The official estimates are from seven to ten thousand people, and I am sure they are not exaggerated. We began with Mass at the cathedral, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, then we walked to Victory Square, where there is an eternal flame, then to the Square of the October Revolution, then to the so-called ‘Red Church’ of St. Simon and Elena, then back to the cathedral again. We had no problem receiving government approval to process through the main streets of the city.”
The Catholic Church in Belarus has very good relations with the government, Kondrusiewicz (photo), who previously was the archbishop in Moscow from 1991 until September, 2007, said. 
 
He noted that the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was treated as if he were a head of state when he visited Belarus one year ago, in June 2008. On that visit, Bertone met with President Alexandr Lukashenko and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Head of the Council of Religious Affairs. (Photo: Belarussian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov shakes hands with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in Minsk, Belarus, June 19, 2008. Cardinal Bertone was on an official visit for talks with government, Catholic and Orthodox leaders in the country — CNS photo/Vladimir Nikolsky, Reuters)
 
Bertone was even invited to deliver an address to the State University, something very unusual for a religious leader. (In fact, some six months later, Kondrusiewicz was invited to deliver a lecture there as well.)

After the country’s majority faith, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism is respected as the second important traditional religion in the country.

Last year, Lukashenko, in Bertone’s presence, highlighted that Belarus is respectful of the right to religious freedom. Bertone thanked Lukashenko for his words, and offered the Church’s support for Belarus in its role as a bridge between East and West.

“I am very happy,” Kondrusiewicz told us. “But I need to build churches! And my curia! I need to build 15 or 20 churches in the coming years, for my 300,000 Catholics in Minsk. The government has given me permission to build the churches, which is the first and biggest hurdle. Now, I must build them. A small chapel costs about $400,000 to build. You have to organize your readers to build one church for me! When the churches are built, I will put up a plaque, thanking all those who have contributed!”

 
(Photo: A Catholic church is silhouetted during sunset in the village of Piarshai, about 40 miles west of Minsk, Belarus—CNS photo/Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters. If readers, upon reading this, feel moved to help Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, please contact us by email.)
 
Kondrusiewicz, who spent 16 years in Moscow, said he has not been back to the Russian capital since his transfer. I asked him if it had been difficult for him to leave after so many years.
 
“When I went to Moscow from Belarus in 1991, they asked me the same question,” Kondrusiewicz said. “Look, I am a soldier of the Church. I serve the Holy Father. I do not go where I want to go, and I do not stay where I want to stay. I am under orders. And this is my happiness — to carry out those orders, to the best of my ability, believing that this is what God wants from me, and nothing else.”
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This Sunday is the Feast of “Corpus Christi”, the Body and Blood of the Lord, in much of the Western Catholic Church.
 
After having received Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, Catholic Christians proceed from the Sanctuary into the streets of the world, pausing along the way for solemn worship, songs of adoration, and holding the Lord aloft, enthroned. The procession symbolizes the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ to the world as it is now lived out through his Church.

In this act of public procession, Catholics proclaim that God still loves the world so much that He still sends His Son, through His Church. This procession is a reminder of the baptismal vocation of every Christian to carry forward in time the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ until He returns. At an interior level, it also symbolizes the universal call to holiness, to continuing conversion in Christ.

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