ST. MARTINVILLE, Louisiana — On Aug. 15, the sixth annual Fete-Dieu du Teche, a 40-mile Eucharistic procession by boat and on foot along the Bayou Teche in the Lafayette Diocese, will celebrate the feast of the Assumption and will be a petition to God for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Father Michael Champagne, a priest of the Community of Jesus Crucified, who is the organizer of the daylong event, said this year’s procession is special for another reasons: It marks the 255th anniversary of the arrival of French-Canadian immigrants, “who brought the Catholic faith to Acadiana after enduring great trials and suffering.”
“Out of an abundance of caution” to guard against COVID-19, the priest said, all participants 8 years or older are required to wear masks — whether on boats or on shore — and all must observe social distancing, including priests, seminarians and laity. Those who have health conditions prohibiting them from wearing a face mask are asked not to attend the event.
A team of trained marshals will be on hand to assure implementation of safety precautions at all sites, Champagne said.
Anyone who is ill or has a compromised immune system is asked to remain home and participate in the procession online at www.facebook.com/CommunityofJesusCrucified.
“Fete-Dieu du Teche on the feast of the Assumption recalls our rich Acadian history and, in a way, reenacts the journey made by the Acadians over 250 years ago,” Champagne said in announcing this year’s event. “The Acadians were persecuted for their Catholic faith and sent into exile from Nova Scotia. Many ended up settling in Louisiana.”
“Having a boat procession with the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of the Assumption involving priests, religious and laity is basically what happened in 1765,” he explained. “In order to serve the Acadian settlers in the Attakapas district, Father Jean-Louis de Civrey accompanied the Acadians on their journey down the Bayou Teche,” which is a 125-mile-long waterway in south-central Louisiana.
“Having the Catholic priest accompany the Acadians on their journey to Acadiana is indicative of our ancestors’ great allegiance to their Catholic faith, especially the Eucharist and Our Lady,” he added. “Fete-Dieu du Teche today relives that original experience of the Acadians.”
The procession will stop and disembark at makeshift altars along the Bayou Teche for recitation of the rosary and benediction, Father Champagne said. Confession will be available at all stops in mobile units along the route. In addition, Pope Francis has granted a plenary indulgence to participants of Fete-Dieu du Teche.
“The Blessed Sacrament will be fixed on an altar on the lead boat under a canopy, with a pair of adorers in adoration between the towns visited. Another boat will carry the statue of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” he said. “This year will feature a St. Joseph boat with a statue of the husband of Mary.”
The latter boat is a tribute to the Year of St. Joseph being observed in the Lafayette Diocese. This year’s procession takes place on the eve of the opening of that observance.
The diocese has 13 church parishes with the name of St. Joseph — 14 if one counts the original name of the mother church of the Acadians prior to the name change to St. Martin de Tours in St. Martinville.
The procession’s starting point is St. Leo the Great Church in Leonville, where an 8 a.m. Mass will be celebrated in French in by Lafayette Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel, a native son of Acadiana.
Attendance at the Mass will be limited to about 315 people. For those unable to enter the church for the Mass, a public address system will be provided to so they can hear Mass outside. Social distancing will be observed by all Massgoers.
At the end of Mass, there will be a procession with the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of Mary and St. Joseph to the nearby boat landing. A double procession at 6-foot spacing will be enforced.
The boat procession then will depart for the first stop, Arnaudville, where participants disembark for the rosary and benediction. The next stops are Cecilia, Breaux Bridge and Parks; participants will disembark at each place for the rosary and benediction.
The final stop for the flotilla is St. Martinville, where participants will process on foot to Notre Dame de Perpetuel Secours for benediction, then to St. Martin de Tours Church for benediction. The day ends with solemn vespers and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at Mater Dolorosa Chapel at 6 p.m.
Fifty boats will participate in the flotilla to form a one-mile procession. Boaters are asked to have an FM radio so they can participate in the continuous prayers live as they are led by the Eucharist boat.