MADISON, Wisconsin — The Second Person of the Holy Trinity was given a police escort up riot-scarred State Street to the Wisconsin Capitol building on Saturday, followed in procession by 2,000 Catholics who proclaimed in word and deed that Jesus Christ is the answer and antidote to our troubled times.
Madison police blocked off streets in a big section of Downtown Madison and a single squad car with emergency lights blazing cleared the path for Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison and Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee to bring Jesus to one of the most troubled spots in America. The thousands who followed bore witness to the message that only Jesus can heal our wounds.
“What a blessing to carry Jesus Christ in His Eucharistic glory through the streets of Downtown Madison,” Hying said on the steps of the Capitol, the very spot where rioters rampaged just two months ago. “It was a sweet weight.”
“Every time the world has faced suffering, violence, every time the people are filled with fear, the Church has brought out the Eucharist and processed the Eucharist in the streets — in procession because we know it is the power of this Eucharistic Christ that can bring about the fullness of what each human heart seeks, and that is union with God.”
The Unite Wisconsin procession started at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church at the sound of the Angelus bells at noon Saturday. It was a similar, but much larger, procession to one held on the feast of Corpus Christi in June. Much of life in downtown Madison came to a standstill as Hying carried a gold monstrance under canopy southwest to State Street, then east to the Capitol. He was preceded by nearly two dozen girls in First Communion dresses, who scattered flower petals like the fronds laid down in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The monstrance was followed by Archbishop Listecki, numerous priests, seminarians, altar servers, and a group of laity that stretched for two city blocks. Despite the size of the event, no secular media appears to have covered the procession.
Videographers from Men of Christ shot footage along the route. A drone flew overhead, documenting the event from an eagle’s-eye view. As the procession reached the Capitol Square, the crowd began praying a patriotic Rosary, mentioning names of the states between the mysteries. The procession stopped on the southwest steps of the Capitol, the scene of riots on June 23 and 24. At 12:45 p.m., Listecki took the monstrance and elevated it toward State Street, then to the south and north. The crowd then said the Divine Praises.
“We know that it’s only the love of Christ that can heal the human heart,” Hying said. “It’s only the love of Christ that can heal all of our divisions and suffering, that can drive away this pandemic, that can bring us together as a united humanity.”
Hying asked God to “send down the mighty power of Jesus crucified” for an end to abortion, an end to racial prejudice, and for creation of a world “where every human person is welcomed, where every human person is loved, where every human person can flourish as the child of God that they truly are.”
Men of Christ organize procession
Saturday’s events were the brainchild of Kevin O’Brien, co-founder of Men of Christ, a Milwaukee-based apostolate that sponsors an annual men’s conference. He said the idea came to him several weeks ago after his wife awoke at 5:30 in the morning in tears over the state of society. He also heard from many people through a virtue-based athletics program he and his boys participate in. He said people are bewildered and frightened by current events, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter violence in Wisconsin and across America, and movements to “de-fund” police, among other issues.
“There’s such a need right now,” O’Brien told Catholic World Report. “It literally feels like everything is upside down.”
O’Brien used his extensive Men of Christ network to organize a Eucharistic Procession and Rosary rally. He secured participation by Bishop Hying and Archbishop Listecki, as well as co-sponsoring groups that include Pro-Life Wisconsin, Arise Milwaukee, Women of Christ, Rosary Coast to Coast, the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate, United States Grace Force, Esto Vir, Squires of Divine Mercy, Saint Augustine School Inc., the Evangelical Catholic, and several Catholic parishes.
“We really said, ‘Let’s unite all the bishops in Wisconsin,’ ” O’Brien said. “Let’s go to the Capitol. Let’s actually do a procession by taking Christ into the world, by activating the intercessional prayer of Mary and being public. That takes courage, and we need Christian courage. Being courageous means you are afraid but you do it anyway.”
O’Brien encountered some resistance from both sides of the issue of wearing masks due to COVID-19. Some people told him they would not participate if masks were not required, while others expressed disdain for a mandatory mask policy. He encouraged people to think beyond these differences to the larger issue.
“This is such a higher level,” O’Brien said. “Being a witness to others is so important. We want you there. We’re taking Christ into the world literally right where they had these riots. Don’t use that (mask issue) as a reason not to participate. It has been an interesting experience, how divided the country is. There is a lot of angst, a lot of fear of what’s happening right now.”
The procession and Rosary rally were planned as a response to the widespread societal upheaval of 2020, from the threats to religious liberty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, to riots in cities like Madison after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
The societal wounds in Wisconsin in 2020 have been deep. On June 23, a bat-wielding Black Lives Matter activist harassed and accosted a Catholic mother of four children as the family prayed the Rosary on the Capitol Square. The activist, identified as Devonere A. Johnson, 28, went on to terrorize patrons with his bat and a bullhorn at the nearby Coopers Tavern, police said. Johnson’s videotaped arrest, brief escape and capture sparked rioting across downtown Madison later that night.
Mobs tore down two historic state-owned statues, including one honoring abolitionist Civil War hero Hans Christian Heg. The nearby City-County Building, which houses the Dane County juvenile jail, was firebombed. A Democrat state senator from Milwaukee who supports BLM was beaten by rioters as he took video of the unrest near the Capitol. Two women were bound over for trial earlier this month in the beating. Federal officials are working to identify five persons of interest seen on surveillance video in the firebombing.
Weeks before, groups protesting Floyd’s death in Minneapolis turned violent on Madison’s famed State Street — smashing storefronts, looting clothing, jewelry and other items, and setting fire to a Madison police squad car. More than 75 stores, restaurants and bars were boarded up after the violence. Graffiti and murals — many commissioned by the city of Madison with taxpayer funds — now cover the boarded-up windows.
One mural depicts a Madison police officer as an obese pig wearing a uniform adorned with a shoulder patch from the Nazi Waffen-SS. The mural sports the headline “Defund the Police” and has a corner graphic that reads “F**k 12,” street shorthand for “f**k the police.” The city paid nearly $50,000 to dozens of artists to create the murals up and down State Street and on the Capitol Square. The result looks more like a dystopian museum of anger and resentment than a vibrant shopping district normally filled with quaint shops and ethnic restaurants.
Wisconsin’s two largest cities, Milwaukee and Madison, are also experiencing skyrocketing crime in 2020. The 105 homicides in Milwaukee represent an 88% increase from the same period in 2019. Earlier this week, an 11-year-old Sun Prairie middle-school student was shot in the head while riding in a car on Madison’s east side. She died two days later, becoming the city’s 10th homicide victim of 2020.
Madison has seen a rash of shootings between people in moving vehicles on heavily traveled streets. Through August 11, the city registered 143 shots-fired incidents, an 88% increase from the same period in 2019. Police have recovered 582 shell casings, 23 percent more than in all of 2019. More than 60 of those came in one shooting at Madison’s Garner Park earlier this month. Madison’s acting police chief, Vic Wahl, called it “an unprecedented level of gun violence.”
The August 11 shooting and subsequent death of Anisa Scott, who would have started sixth grade this month, have stunned the Dane County community. “A massive amount of gunfire that’s going on in the streets and it’s really something that none of us should find acceptable,” Wahl said at a press conference earlier this week. “This can’t be okay. This can’t be something that we as a city or community accept.”
On August 14, Madison police arrested two teenagers — Perion R. Carreon, 19; and Andre P. Brown, 16 — on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, as a party to a crime, in the shooting death of Anisa. Police believe the driver of the car in which she was riding was the intended target of the shooting.
Carreon was also arrested for his alleged involvement in another shooting. He is being held on charges of operating a vehicle without consent, carrying a concealed weapon, resisting, robbery with the use of force and first-degree recklessly endangering safety. At the time of the fatal shooting of Anisa Scott, Carreon was out on $2,200 bond from four felony cases filed against him in 2019 and 2020. Charges included bail jumping, escape, vehicle theft as a repeat offender, and battery. When he was arrested, police said they found a loaded gun in his waistband.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, a frequent critic of police who has expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, is the subject of a recall campaign. She publicly lobbied for the release of Devonere Johnson, suggesting he be a candidate for a “restorative justice” program rather than prosecution. Days later, Johnson was indicted by a federal grand jury for two counts of extortion for allegedly shaking down bars and restaurants for free food, beer, and cash in exchange for the establishments not being destroyed by looting mobs. Johnson also faces a litany of state felony and misdemeanor charges related to his alleged behavior June 22-24.
Saturday’s crowd gathered around the base of a statue torn down by rioters on June 23. The bronze sculpture depicted a woman, “Forward,” who represents the state of Wisconsin’s spirit of progress. The statue was dedicated in 1895. Someone placed a small statue of St. Michael the Archangel on the now-empty pedestal for the rally. Attendees gave a standing ovation to the Madison police officers who provided security for the event. A number of participants approached patrol officers and thanked them.
Catholics from around the state descended on downtown Madison for the procession. Hying said their presence sent an important message.
“Thank you for making the effort and the sacrifice to be a witness to life and love and ultimately, the primacy of God,” he said. “We come to this place, which is the symbol of government in our state, to say that God is the ultimate reality of life, and when a country is founded on the principles of truth, then human society flourishes.”
O’Brien said Men of Christ is organizing the planning materials from the procession, so they can be used as a “plug and play” system for similar events in other cities and states. Materials include posters, placards, videos and web-site materials. “We want to inspire, be the spark that ignites the blaze, that really gets through the entire country,” he said.
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