GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska — Five days a week, the priests and nuns of St. Mary’s Cathedral lead a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Grand Island to bring healing and peace to people during a time of fear and illness.
Five people take part in the walk, which begins at 4:30 p.m. each weekday. One of the priests carries a consecrated host, which Catholics believe is the body of Christ. The host is exhibited in a vessel called a monstrance. Another member of the group carries burning incense.
This is the third week the church has carried out the Eucharistic procession in Grand Island.
“There’s a long tradition in the Catholic church, during times of plague or famine or war, to process with the Blessed Sacrament through the community. It’s a way to try to bring the presence of Jesus to heal whatever is ailing us,” Father Jim Golka, pastor of St. Mary’s Cathedral told The Grand Island Independent.
Each weekday morning, the church announces on its two main Facebook pages what route the procession will take, so parishioners in the area are ready.
They’ve covered most of the streets to the north and east of the church, where many parishioners live.
“We believe one of the gifts that God gave us is the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the presence of Jesus,” Golka said.
Jesus “is present to us many ways. But this particular way blesses the Catholic faithful. So at this time, when people cannot come to church and cannot gather in public and cannot receive the Lord in Communion, we just felt this desire to bring the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament to the people,“ he said.
Catholic churches often have Eucharistic processions on two Sundays during the year — the Feast of the Body of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi, and on Divine Mercy Sunday. Whereas those are times of celebration, this is something different.
The Eucharistic procession is not necessary, “but it’s something that we just kind of felt called to for our community,” Golka said.
Someone told him, “Father, this is a great thing you’re doing.”
“And I said, ‘No, Jesus is the one who does it. We just get to walk with him.’”
Jesus heals, blesses and cares for people, he said. “We just try to minister to that.”
The walkers have gone outside the church’s immediate area. At least half the members of the parish are Hispanic people “who really live all over town,” Golka said. “We want to cover most of the boundaries of our parish, but when you’re blessing people, there’s no boundaries.”
The “Walking with Jesus” procession is livestreamed each day, averaging about 5,000 viewers.
The walk will continue “as long as the Lord tells us to,” Golka said.
The procession leaders ask parishioners not to walk with them. Families are urged to stay in their own groups and away from other families.” If the procession comes by their house, “they’re welcome to come out in the front yard and kneel,” he said.
If someone in the house is sick, “that person often appears in the window, and we’re able to bless them from outside,” Golka said. “People will see us from a block away, and you can see them drop to their knees, because they know the Lord is coming.”
“Their faith humbles me,” he said of the people who fall to their knees. “They believe this is Jesus in front of them and they really want him to come into their life and help them. When you see that kind of faith, it can’t help but humble me.”
At each stop, one of the priests offers a blessing. The other priest asks families how they’re doing and if there’s anything for which they would like the priests to pray.
Once in a while, people will drive up to the processional. When they do that, the walkers ask them to maintain a good social distance. The priests bless them, they get back in their cars and drive away.
“You see the faith of the people who are really hungry for the Lord,” said Golka, who believes many members of the parish are fearful. “We have a large number of people from our parish who are sick. I think on one day we had 14 people from our parish in the intensive care unit.”
During the procession, Golka is accompanied by Father Joseph Thambi, associate pastor; seminarian John Rohweder; and one of the two nuns currently serving the parish, Sister Jesusmerling and Sister Jesusmaikelyn. Also along is the person carrying the camera.
Some non-Catholics have asked the priests for a blessing, which is “great, because again, the blessing of God is bigger than any one parish and one faith,” Golka said.
Have they received any objections?
“There have been a few people who have stopped to ask what we’re doing, and when we try to explain it to them, some have appreciated it and some haven’t. But I’m not too worried about that. I think whenever Christ walks through the streets, he faces some opposition, so that’s OK.”
Six days a week, the two priests present a holy hour, beginning at about 9:30 a.m. They then say two Masses — in English at 10 and in Spanish at 10:30. Those services are livestreamed from the rectory chapel.
The priests are also busy with funerals. “We’ve averaged about three funerals a week for the last three weeks,” Golka said.
Bringing Christ’s presence into the middle of them ”heals them and brings them peace,” he said.
Most of the recent deaths have been related to COVID-19.
“I think more than half of the funerals that we’ve presided at have not shown up in the paper,” Golka said. For some reason, “they don’t do an obituary. So there’s more deaths than people know of.”
Are parishioners vulnerable because many of them are older?
“My experience has been part of it is because they’re older and a large number of them work at JBS,” he said. “So the people who are working at JBS tell me that they are afraid, but they need to go to work, if they are able.”
Some of the people who kneel along the procession route are members of a new Spanish-speaking chapter of Catholic Daughters of the Americas. They hold up signs in support of the priests and the parish. They’re also “just asking for healing for the whole world,” Golka said.
The procession may be viewed on multiple platforms of the parish, including: www.facebook.com/stmarysgi/ and the Catedral de Santa Maria Facebook page.
It may also be seen on YouTube at St. Mary’s Cathedral Grand Island Nebraska.