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On Monday evening, May 12, I had the privilege along with my brother priests of leading a Eucharistic Procession from the MIT Chapel to St. Paul Church in Harvard Square, more than 1.5 miles down Mass Ave, in response to the "black mass" that was scheduled to take place on the Harvard campus that evening.
In addition to the Holy Hour being planned at St. Paul's, we felt it was important that people from the wider Church be given an opportunity to do something to give honor and glory to God. A public event that mocked and desecrated what is most sacred to Catholics called for a public response.
Plans were only finalized on Friday afternoon; through social media and word of mouth, word spread like wild fire. To our great surprise, more than 300 people were present as we left MIT and several hundred joined us along the way.
As Georgina Dorminy, 21, an MIT biology major put it, "I showed up at the chapel expecting like 30 people, but I saw the Church instead."
Young and old were present, married, single and consecrated, a Brazilian community from Framingham, a bus from Tewksbury, a man in a wheelchair, a car load of Franciscans, a young priest and his father, suburban senior citizens, young adults, members of Communion and Liberation, in short, people from all walks of life.
The presence of God was palpable on the streets of Cambridge. Police Officers, frat boys hanging out windows, commuters, restaurant workers, gym goers, and cafe diners watched in curiosity, reverence and awe as Jesus passed by.
Many students, despite preparing for final exams, which is no small task at MIT, gave up an evening of studying to attend.
"Last week was a really busy week for me, but from the moment I heard about the event and put it on my calendar (though I was tentative at first) I was filled with the conviction and deep inner peace about going," Joshua Hester, 25, a Ph.D. student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, said. "The most moving part was when we got to the church and were literally taking up several blocks of road just waiting to get into the church -- which was also already full! It really strengthened my faith to see so many Catholics gathered together from so many different places to declare our shared love for Jesus."
Math student Khristian Bauer, 23, said, "As an altar server, walking next to our Lord was a tremendous blessing. I was proud to show the power of Christ to the world. I was especially moved by random passers-by who would stop what they were doing and kneel or bow before Christ. When we got to the Church (which was overflowing at this point), it was amazing to see so many Catholics united in prayer and adoration. Finally, I was incredibly moved when the whole church in one voice sang, 'Holy God We Praise Thy Name.' I will never forget how heavenly that moment was, and the unity we all showed in response to evil."
Andy Valenzuela, an MIT Research Assistant, was also deeply moved by the experience. "At first I was drawn to the procession as a way to spiritually combat the evil that was being planned at Harvard that night. Once the other event started looking less likely, I continued to be drawn to the procession as a way to give a public witness to our faith. It was amazing. I had participated in Eucharistic processions before, but never on the streets that I walk on a daily basis. Proclaiming my faith in Jesus in such a public way, alongside so many others, was exhilarating. I was struck by the aptness of a Eucharistic procession as a metaphor for the Church: those of us towards the back of the procession weren't able to see the Blessed Sacrament much of the time, just as those of us following Christ today do not see him directly. But by following those who have gone before us, in the procession or in the life of faith, we were, and are, able to follow Jesus through the streets."
Many local campus ministers were in attendance. Father David Barnes, director of the Catholic Center and Campus Minister at Boston University, said in his blog A Shepherd's Post, "I'm not always a huge fan of 'big events' because I feel like those things can be used as a substitute for true faith. Sometimes, they feel as though the effort that goes into planning and executing them far outweighs the benefits. They sometimes feel designed as a publicity stunt or as a way of evoking a strong emotional reaction, but the effects seem short-lived. Last night's Eucharistic Procession had a different feel. As I looked about and saw the many young college students from area universities participating, I was touched by their love for the Eucharist and their sincere desire to follow Christ."
In addition to members of the MIT community, hundreds came from throughout Massachusetts and neighboring states. Patsy Gillespie, 32, from St. Mary in Waltham, said, "I was surprised to see so many people there, young and old. For the most part people were either singing or walking quietly, I heard a couple of people praying the Rosary. It was very prayerful and respectful. I heard a couple of people shout 'grow up' from passing vehicles, but thought that was rather ironic. It was amazing to see the Church so full once we got there, and I really appreciated the atmosphere of quiet prayer, which was reflected in the lack of clapping."
In addition to the procession, we received reports of faithful throughout the country and the world joining us in prayer that night, and we could feel their prayers and solidarity in a tangible way. Holy Hours were held throughout the world.
Referring to the Catholic Church, James Joyce in "Finnegan's Wake" said, "Here comes everybody." The Eucharistic procession showed how true that observation was and still is. The Mystical Body of Christ gave a powerful witness that night to our love for Jesus' True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
Father Richard Clancy is Director of Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Boston and Chaplain at MIT.