LAFAYETTE, La. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The religious community of the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana is sponsoring its sixth annual holy eucharistic boat procession on Aug. 15 and is inviting Catholics from around the country — and the world — to join in.
Fête-Dieu du Teche organizer Fr. Michael Champagne, CJC, explained the purpose of the procession to Church Militant: "Here in Catholic Louisiana we can show America and the world that men and women, black and white, young and old, can exercise safely and peacefully our right to religious freedom and adore our God together."
"The Church has always held eucharistic processions for the end of plagues and pandemics, and we do the same this year offering Fête-Dieu 2020 to overcome COVID-19," Fr. Champagne stated.
The event is scheduled for the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the priest said, because it represents the day that France and its American colonies were consecrated to Our Lady in 1638.
"The gold star on a white background of the Acadian flag represents the Assumption," he noted.
The first Fête-Dieu occurred in 2015 to commemorate the 250th arrival of the early French settlers — called Acadians — to the region and the 250th anniversary of the oldest church parish, St. Martin de Tours, he related.
"It recalls our rich Acadian history," the Louisiana prelate observed, "and re-enacts the journey made by the Acadians over 250 years ago."
One reason for using boats in the procession is to honor the Catholic heritage of the Acadians who traveled largely by boat from Nova Scotia to Louisiana in search of religious freedom and escape from persecution, explained Fr. Champagne.
Acadian history is reflected in the current route, the priest noted.
"We travel down Bayou Teche, which was the old Mississippi River thousands of years ago," recalled Champagne. "It is the same waterway that the Acadians traveled down as they came to Acadiana to take possession of their land grants obtained in New Orleans from the Spanish governor."
They came with priests, religious, laity, the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of Mary's Assumption, he emphasized — all the elements of the current festival.
It's important to honor the early Acadian settlers, Champagne said: "They were persecuted for their faith. [They] came down, found a refuge here and really brought the Faith, brought culture here to Louisiana. We don't want to forget that. If we forget it, we lose it and we'd be very poor without our faith."
After Mass, participants will process with the Blessed Sacrament to the boat launch for Benediction, followed by a 21-gun salute. The departure of scores of boats, forming a one-mile-long procession, will be sounded by the firing of a canon on the bayou bank.
The procession is scheduled to stop at each church on the bayou — in Arnaudville, Cecilia, Breaux Bridge Parks — for Rosary and Benediction, culminating at Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel for Vespers and Benediction.
Those without boats can still attend the procession, Champagne clarified. They can drive to and gather at any of the planned stops along the banks behind the various churches along Bayou Teche. A map and a schedule of the event is available online.
Priests will be available at each stop to hear confessions.
About the reaction of the local community to the event, Fr. Champagne noted "[t]he deep Catholic faith of the people."
He spoke of "[s]pontaneous altars built along the bayou behind people's homes; trucks stopping over the bridges and men getting out, blocking traffic, and kneeling," as well as "the tremendous outpouring of generosity among the so many 'moving parts,' which involves the serious efforts of easily 100 volunteers."
Of the large number of children participating, the Acadian priest commented: "The Church is forever young. Young people love our Lady and love the Blessed Sacrament. They are the backbone of Fête-Dieu du Teche and we need to show the world that the Church is young."
"Vocations rise around devotion of our Lady and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament," he confirmed.
Father Champagne pointed out the procession also really moves older Catholics, who remember such processions from when they were children.
"Many of our older Catholics of the area remember big processions in the streets," he noted. "They come out and are moved to tears at the sight."
It's a sense of communal identity we just don't see much anymore in the Western world," he reflected.
To exercise an "abundance of caution," according to the event's press release, "anyone who is ill or has a compromised immune system is asked to remain home and participate in the procession online at the Community of Jesus Crucified Facebook page.
Everyone 8 years old or older — whether on boats or on shore — is expected to wear a face mask and observe social distancing. In addition, "a team of trained marshals will be on hand to assure implementation of safety precautions at all sites."
Videos of Fête-Dieu 2019 are available on Facebook.
For more information about Fête-Dieu 2020 and how to participate, contact Fr. Champagne at firstname.lastname@example.org, (337) 394-6550 or on Facebook.