Eucharistic Procession with Faith in the Public Square

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org

It was a day almost like any other weekday in Downtown St. Louis. The lingering summer heat radiated through a maze of asphalt, brick and concrete, cut by an occasional oncoming fall breeze that pulsed through the openings between the tall buildings. Traffic carried on the business of the day, and midday lunchgoers relished in their leisurely pace.

Like a beacon of light, a small procession of people seemingly came out of nowhere. Their leader, Father Urey Mark, was fully vested in cream, red and gold. Raised above him was a brilliant golden monstrance, which contained the body of Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. He gave his full attention to Jesus, unaware of the attention he and his little procession were garnering as they made their way down Washington Avenue to their final destination at the old Hotel Alverne at the corner of 11th and Locust streets.

The eucharistic procession, held Sept. 19, was just one more way in which the priest and the people of St. Nicholas Parish Downtown are bringing faith into the public square. And if the reaction of the crowds was any measure, the group succeeded in their plan.

Father Mark, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word and a native of Liberia, said the idea for a eucharistic procession Downtown stemmed from the parish's desire to carry on the work of the new evangelization. At the end of last year, Archbishop Robert Carlson incorporated the boundaries of the former St. Patrick Parish into St. Nicholas, located at North 18th and Lucas streets. The people of the parish saw that as an opportunity worth seizing. Their other efforts have included offering a weekday Mass at 12:15 p.m. and a marketing campaign through the help of Henning Communications, a Downtown communications firm.

Patrick Henning, president and chief executive officer of Henning Communications, showed Father Mark the mosaics featuring a monstrance at the corner entrance of the Old Alverne, which became the site of Benediction for their procession. It's also where the Capuchin Franciscan friars ministered for more than 30 years, from 1960 to the early 1990s. At one time, they offered five daily Masses and separate times for confessions. In a nod to the ministry the Capuchins once offered, Father Mark saw that as an opportunity to bring back that faith vitality to the city.

"The whole idea came about with the new evangelization," said the priest. "What are new ways that could be from our tradition but just a new attempt to bring faith in the public square? (It's) to reach out to Catholics, to stir up something of our faith in those who share it -- but also to invite others to join our faith."

That sentiment certainly was stirred among the people along the route who witnessed the procession. Inside the London Tea Room on Washington, patrons stopped their conversations and smiled with curiosity from inside the oversized pane glass windows.

At the corner of 14th Street and Washington Avenue, Julie Zagorski was standing next to two men as she waited for the crosswalk light to change. The professional photographer had driven from her hometown of De Soto that day, looking for studio space for her business. An extraordinary minister of holy Communion at her parish, St. Rose of Lima in De Soto, Zagorski was taken aback by what she had witnessed. She made the sign of the cross as the procession passed.

The men standing next to her asked, "What was that?"

"I told them, 'That was Jesus' body they were presenting.'"

Zagorski prayed on the drive from De Soto that she would find the right studio space and in the process, maybe discover where she was supposed to be with her photography business. Seeing a visible sign of the faith definitely wasn't lost on her.

"It actually stopped me in my tracks," she said. "I think it was wonderful, and very appropriate to bring Christ among the people. It just gives a presence of hope for the marketplace, for people like me, and that (Downtown) area is very up-and-coming -- people trying to grow their businesses and vision of what they are trying to do. It opens people to communication."

"We are just an instrument of God, and we just want to throw His nets into deep waters and whatever He catches ...," said Father Mark. "(It's) to rekindle that spirit of God. We can make this a city of God."

According to the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, approximately 500 new residents have been moving into Downtown each year for more than five years. There are about 14,000 people living Downtown. One of the largest, growing groups of residents are young, educated people in the 25-34 age range, and empty nesters.

In addition to the growing residential and business sectors, other entities are attracting more people Downtown, including St. Louis University's new law school building, which opened at the corner of Olive and Tucker boulevards this fall.

"All you have to do is walk around and you see people walking their dogs in the morning, there's babies in strollers, even school buses Downtown," said Henning.

Ella Scott, a lifetime member of St. Nicholas, was handing out postcards with information on St. Nicholas to passersby on Washington Avenue after the procession. The 65-year-old said it made her feel "overwhelmed" to be able to share her faith with others in the public square.

"I've experienced a lot in the Catholic faith," she said. "I've taught RCIA here and I've seen different walks of life. To do something like this confirms that God has called me to be in the right place at the right time."

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