WESTERLY — Even a pandemic couldn’t stop two Westerly parishes from holding their 15th annual Eucharistic procession from one parish to another on the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 14.
The clergy from the Church of the Immaculate Conception, St. Pius X and a large group of laity stepped out in faith with the approval of the Town of Westerly and the guiding presence of the local police. Joining Immaculate and St. Pius X was a small contingent from the Holy Cross Community in Stonington Connecticut and a couple of young adults from Baltic, Connecticut. The number of people who turned out for the procession was excellent, especially given the fact that it was only announced a week in advance.
This two-parish tradition began in 2005 when the then-pastors Father Wilfrid Gregoire from Immaculate Conception and Father Raymond Suriani from St. Pius X held their first procession from Immaculate to St. Pius X in celebration of the 50th anniversary of St. Pius X Parish. The connection between the parishes began in the mid-1950s when, as an off-shoot of Immaculate Conception, the fledgling parish of St. Pius X met in the basement of Immaculate Conception while their parish was being built less than one mile down the road.
The current pastors, Father Giacomo Capoverdi of Immaculate Conception and Father Michael Najim of St. Pius X, along with St. Pius X’s pastor emeritus Father Suriani and Deacon Francis Valliere, led the procession.
On a picture perfect spring day, Father Capoverdi carried the Blessed Sacrament from Immaculate through High Street to about the point where the boundaries of both parishes meet, and then Father Najim carried it to St. Pius X. Father Suriani, with megaphone in hand, and walking further back in the procession, led everyone in the rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy. At one point the procession paused and Father Najim turned and blessed the senior citizens who were watching the procession from the porch of the Elms Retirement Home.
The celebration ended with Benediction at St. Pius X. People sat in the pews with their family members and respected social distancing. Normally the celebration would end with a reception in the parish hall, but due to the coronavirus it was skipped this year.
A few days prior to the procession, Father Najim said “Initially because of the shut-down, we weren’t certain we’d be able to do it. So, the fact that we were able to have it is a wonderful grace from God. Our society is reopening and it is a wonderful opportunity to bring the Eucharist into the streets.”
Father also considered it to be somewhat similar to the apostles’ situation of having their own experience of being “shut-down” between the crucifixion and the Resurrection. Father Najim mused, “…having this procession is a little bit like a resurrection experience for our local Catholic community.”
Father Capoverdi was also concerned about the procession happening this year and said “Not getting permission and permits to do it would have been tragic, but the Town of Westerly has been good to us and it was quite heartwarming. They were eager to help us.”
In thinking about the locals who might not know the procession was going on and encountering it by surprise, Father Capoverdi said “when they see peaceful people processing as a people of faith, it will hopefully be a sign to them that faith in our town is alive and well, and that we firmly believe in prayer. We will also be blessing the town with the Blessed Sacrament – bringing Jesus right into the streets.”
The Corpus Christi feast, also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, originated eight centuries ago in France. By 1264, under the papacy of Pope Urban IV, it was celebrated throughout the entire Church. Corpus Christi processions highlight the centrality and importance of the Eucharist and can be a means of evangelization for those who witness a procession.