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SEAL BEACH, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Southern Californian priest is reviving the devotion of Eucharistic processions in his diocese and hopes others will do the same.
Father Alfred Baca of the diocese of Orange found time in his busy schedule, as senior priest at St. Anne Parish in Seal Beach, to talk with Church Militant about his efforts to resurrect the Catholic custom of processions for a new generation.
Baca, the vicar for ecumenism and interreligion for his diocese, also responded to Church Militant about his recent essay titled "Eucharistic Processions," which argues for the spiritual and physical advantages of walking with Jesus through city streets.
Baca states, "The Eucharistic procession is a wonderful demonstration of Catholic devotion, and ... an opportunity to bring Jesus Christ into neighborhoods and homes that have fallen away from Him."
He emphasizes that Eucharistic processions allow the faithful to bear witness more openly and "not fade back into the shadows" in the face of increased persecution of Catholics.
He also reminds priests that they have been encouraged to include processions in their response to the National Eucharistic Revival that's now taking place in the United States. Reflecting fondly on the Eucharistic processions of his youth, Baca said, "I hope children will be able to make memories like mine. I hope parishes will take the Eucharistic Lord out in procession in a time when it seems countercultural."
Church Militant: In your essay, you write that when we walk with the Blessed Sacrament, "Darkness is scattered, and the devil is weakened in his hold over souls." Could you say a little more about the sacred power of the Blessed Sacrament?
Father Alfred Baca: It is obvious to anyone with faith that the world has taken a dramatic turn away from God. The world always struggles with God, but there is an increase of persecution of Christians and, in particular, Catholics. That is new. It is estimated that throughout the United States, there have been 360 attacks on Catholic Churches since May 2020. In 2023, there have been 76. There is a darkness that is finding a welcome reception that is alarming. It is important to not fade back into the shadows but to witness more openly the Catholic faith that we love. The Eucharistic procession is a wonderful demonstration of Catholic devotion ... It is an opportunity to bring Jesus Christ into neighborhoods and homes that have fallen away from Him. It is a privilege to walk with God and His people, to accompany Him. Wherever He walks, darkness recoils, and the love of Christ engages and invites people to return to Him.
CM: What are some of the comments you've received from parishioners who have participated in the processions? Have any children or young people given you any feedback?
Baca: People love processions. It reminds them of years ago when this was a normal feature of Catholic life. Especially those from other countries appreciate something that is still very familiar in their former homelife and culture. Young people are energized and enjoy the aspect of a strong and proud Catholicism. Children find it magical. In our diocese, the bishop has encouraged us to have Eucharistic processions through our neighborhoods. This last weekend, five churches processed with the Blessed Sacrament from parish to parish, finishing up at the local public university campus. A few days after, over 200 university students signed up for the Catholic club on campus. Even during COVID, we had outdoor processions. Our bishops, a number of times, climbed onto the back of pickup trucks and went their way slowly through neighborhoods with the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by billowing incense and large numbers of believers. This is something that has been encouraged and welcomed in our diocese.
CM: What have been some of the spiritual benefits for you as you organize and lead the processions?
Baca: I love organizing these things. I know that Our Lord is pleased with my efforts. There are always challenges along the way, and He always smooths out the wrinkles. It is always beautiful to see how people respond, the joy and even the tears. For me, it is deeply satisfying to my vocation. The Church calls us to evangelize, and processions are such an easy way of answering that call and bringing Christ to the world. I have always loved the sacraments and especially Holy Mass and confession. Adoration has become a key part of our plan of evangelization. For me, too, it is an important part of my spiritual health as a priest.
CM: A reader feels like they are processing with you, step by step, as they read these words in one of your essays: "There is something beautiful about taking Christ into our neighborhoods, and one can never underestimate the miracles of faith and love that happen as the Lord passes house by house, soul by soul. One can never underestimate the miracles of faith that happen to us as we give witness to the Holy Eucharist, to Jesus Christ Our Lord and God." How did this observation come to you?
Baca: I became a priest to change the world! That the Lord would use me to accomplish this is the most exciting part of the vocation. I tell young men that if they want a life that is challenging and one that transforms people for the good, it is the priesthood. The most central piece is that we save souls. I love the life I have been given. Even with all the problems we encounter in and outside of the Church, I would choose again to serve Him. My only regrets are the many ways that I fail to live out His plan for me. However, Christ is gentle and generous with me. He loves His priests very intensely. I have seen miracles over many years. It is easy for me to write what I experience.
CM: Eucharistic processions seem like a perfect way for us to demonstrate the spirit of the Eucharistic Revival now taking place in the United States and to be, as you put it, "bold and obvious in the faith that we love." Do you agree?
I absolutely agree. The revival is about coming into a real and deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. As Catholics, the Eucharist is the centerpiece of our Faith. Anytime we allow the world to see us as believing and committed Catholics, darkness is intimidated. The devil wants us to worship only in our churches quietly. That is not the way of Christ or His saints.
CM: You write that you "hope parishes will take the Eucharistic Lord out in procession in a time when it seems countercultural." What advice can you give to laymen who want to start Eucharistic processions in their parishes? What advice can you give to priests who want to get them started?
Baca: This is not as difficult as it may seem at first. Priests have been encouraged to include processions in their response to the eucharistic revival. However, priests have never had to request permission from their bishop or diocese to hold a public procession. I think if more laypeople approached their priests with the request, you would see more processions. You can start small. Perhaps a May procession with the schoolchildren or the faith-formation children. Something on the parish campus. My experience is that people love this, and groups are happy to march with their banners. The Knights of Columbus are always a wonderful resource. I bring the city police into our processions. They make sure we are safe, and it creates a good bond with them.
CM: Do you have any final comments?
Baca: Processions are moments of encounter with grace, with Christ. I look for reasons to have processions! Celebrating our Eucharistic Lord, the Blessed Virgin or the saints brings joy to the soul and builds up the Church.