Christ came to the public square here in the capital of Wisconsin on Sunday. He processed in glory and honor past the boarded-up store fronts damaged in recent riots and was carried up to the foot of Wisconsin’s seat of political power, the State Capitol.
Between 250 and 300 Catholics from across the Diocese of Madison and elsewhere followed the solemn procession of the monstrance holding the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Led by Rev. Andrew Kurz, Wisconsin state chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, the Eucharistic Procession started at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and traveled up State Street past hundreds of Sunday afternoon onlookers.
The monstrance containing the consecrated host gleamed from under the golden canopy as the long procession made its way up State Street, which has been the site of many protests and unrest over the past 60 years. The faithful sang hymns as they filed past dozens of boarded-up store fronts damaged in looting earlier this month during anti-racism demonstrations. Incense drifted into the afternoon air from the gold thurible swung by Ron Faust at the head of the procession. Children carried and waved American flags, handed out in commemoration of Flag Day.
The public along the route stopped to take notice. Many filmed and photographed the procession with their phones. One young woman had tears in her eyes as the monstrance was carried past. The crowds along State Street were respectful, seeming to understand the sacred nature of the procession. Procession participants sprinkled holy water and blessed salt along the route.
Such a public display of faith in downtown Madison was a sight to behold. It came just two weeks after nearly 200 people took part in a Rosary rally around Capitol Square to protest local government health restrictions on the number of people who can gather for Holy Mass. It was barely 10 days after Bishop Donald J. Hying’s threatened lawsuit against Madison and Dane County prompted health officials to suspend their strict limits on religious gatherings made as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Corpus Christi was just the latest sign of faith in the public sphere.
“Religious liberties are part of our rights, whether we’re out there in front of an abortion facility exercising our First Amendment free-speech rights, or out here in the public square at the State Capitol,” said Dan Miller, state director of Pro-Life Wisconsin. “A lot of these things, if you don’t use them, you lose them. We saw firsthand with the pandemic how easily some of those things kind of got scuffled to the side.”
City and county health officials imposed a 50-person limit on attendance at Holy Mass and other religious gatherings. That regulation came after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s restrictions that kept much of Wisconsin’s population in lockdown for fear of COVID—19.
Miller said such a visible Corpus Christi procession is an important indicator that Catholics will defend their constitutionally protected rights to free exercise of religion. “You can’t back off the ground that you already gained,” he said. “You’ve got to keep going.”
Fr. Richard Heilman, one of the organizers of the procession, said Corpus Christi presents an opportunity to show that Christ belongs in the public square. “There are forces trying to pull God out of our nation,” Fr. Heilman told participants. “We’re walking and praying with our Lord, and asking that Our Lord be every bit a part of our nation. This is a nation under God.”
Fr. Heilman carried a gold reliquary that he said contains a piece of the True Cross of Christ. The priceless relic was discovered by a relative in a French chapel during the D-Day invasion of Europe in June 1944. The American soldier came upon a bombed-out castle with a private chapel. The crucifix was face down on the floor. When the soldier turned the crucifix over, the relic fell out of a compartment in Christ’s head. He carried the relic home and later discovered its significance.
Richard Bonomo, a parishioner at Holy Redeemer parish, asked participants to remember the Real Presence of Christ in his parish’s perpetual adoration chapel, which badly needs volunteer adorers and other support.
“If you have not volunteered for an hour of adoration in the chapel downtown, please do so,” Bonomo said. “This is one of the best things you can do. We need more people to support this chapel. It’s a mission of faith, keeping this prayer going 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Miller said Sunday’s Corpus Christi procession will have evangelizing benefits in the Madison community. “The people who saw us today, this is going to affect them for the rest of their lives,” he said. “They will remember this forever.”
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