Archbishop Alexander Sample carries the Eucharist in a monstrance along Northwest Davis Street during a procession that drew hundreds of Oregon Catholics. The public witness June 23 included Mass at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the procession and a rosary in five languages. It concluded with a Benediction. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Archbishop Alexander Sample carries the Eucharist in a monstrance along Northwest Davis Street during a procession that drew hundreds of Oregon Catholics. The public witness June 23 included Mass at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the procession and a rosary in five languages. It concluded with a Benediction. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)

On an overcast Sunday afternoon, Jesus Christ and 800 of his followers descended from St. Mary Cathedral into the streets of downtown Portland. Participants called it powerful public witness to the Catholic belief of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.

As they marched on June 23, Catholics of various parishes and cultures prayed and praised, a stark contrast to the quiet bewilderment of onlookers on the sidewalk and in their cars who perhaps had never seen a procession quite like this.

They were marching to mark the feast of Corpus Christi, officially known as the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, in which the Catholic Church celebrates the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Archbishop Alexander Sample carried a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament and was preceded by candles and incense as he made his way to the North Park Blocks. Just before the procession, the archbishop celebrated Mass in the cathedral and said in his homily that the Eucharist is much more than a mere symbol.

“It is a physical presence not like our bodies are present to each other here,” Archbishop Sample said, referring to St. Paul VI’s encyclical “Mysterium Fidei.” “But he is truly, physically, corporally present. … Believe that with all your heart.”

After the Mass, the archbishop immediately began the procession, holding the monstrance high for all to see, and was followed by priests and faithful from all over the archdiocese. Many raised banners to represent their respective parishes, and others dressed in cultural garb, illustrating the universality of the church’s celebration.

The line formed by the assembled faithful extended for several blocks at a time, and there were moments in which the marchers were divided by traffic. But although they may have been separated momentarily by distance, they remained united in spirit.

The reverent and joyful demeanor of those marching drew the attention of many onlookers. As the procession passed Deschutes Brewery Public House on the corner of Northwest 11th Avenue and Northwest Davis Street, a hush came over patrons inside and outside as they observed the devoted march of hundreds of Catholics.

One onlooker, who gave his name as Maryus, was walking his dog when he came across the procession and was immediately struck with by the uniqueness of what was happening.

“I’m from Russia and I’ve lived in lots of Christian countries, but I’ve never seen something like this,” Maryus said. “We don’t see Christians practicing their faith outside of politics very often, so it’s nice to see people actually pray.”

It was exactly the reaction many marchers were hoping for.

Carolina Ruth Valdez came from St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton and hoped that people would be inspired by the procession to seek out the faith.

“Our Lord in the streets of Portland – (Portlanders) are hungry for him but they don’t know it,” she said. “I hope they can see our faith and that we’re marching in the street, just regular people, and maybe they’ll question ‘What’s that?’ and find their way home to the Church.”

Upon arriving to the North Park Blocks, a place where homeless people and Pearl District shoppers alike spend time, Archbishop Sample placed the monstrance on an altar for all to adore. He then began leading the rosary, with each decade being prayed in a different language: first in English, then Latin, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Most responded in their native tongue, a sign of the rich cultural diversity in the Church of Western Oregon.

Eve Owen-Bell, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Portland, came with her family to the procession and said it brought her back to how she is called to live out her faith.

“I am reminded of living my faith visibly,” she said as she stood with her 8-month-old baby. “It’s not just going to Mass or experiencing the Mass, but also walking in the street and proclaiming Christ.”

Many people were already in the park when the procession arrived and took a moment to observe what was taking place before them. One such person was a homeless man, who wished to remain nameless. After asking a participant what was going on, he said he was touched by the display of devotion.

“I’m a Methodist and I don’t know everything about the Catholic religion,” he said, “but I know this is a way Catholics are able to give back and worship God. I can’t believe there are so many people who are Catholic who aren’t afraid to come out and be who they are.”

Later, when someone with a dog ran by shouting “The church is a phony! The pope is a phony!” the man shouted back, “Is your dog an atheist, too?” – a lighthearted defense of the assembled Catholics.

There were some negative reactions: another man walked around worshippers as they kneeled, saying, “The Catholic Church is a cult.” Some reported hearing people hail the devil. But even then, the marches wished only goodwill toward them.

“I hope that they will see us and learn that there is something to this,” said David Dabeegu Kabassima of St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro. “If people are willing to march, then there must be something more, and what is that something? It is Jesus that makes people so joyful.”

As the procession began its return to the cathedral for benediction, the spiritual gifts from the Eucharistic procession were already being borne. Shouts of “Viva Cristo Rey” (“Long Live Christ the King”) rung out and many marchers were visibly moved by the procession.

“It was special,” said Joseph Pham of Our Lady of Lavang Parish in Portland. “Every time I see God, it makes me feel peaceful, and that happened today.”

Vivian Brink and her daughter Faustina, of Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, brought rose petals to throw in front of the monstrance in imitation of St. Therese of Lisieux.

“St. Therese is Faustina’s confirmation saint,” Vivian said, “and Therese wrote about how she would throw rose petals during processions to honor the Blessed Sacrament. And that’s what we wanted to do – to give honor and glory to Our Lord with roses in the City of Roses.”

This harkened back to the archbishop’s homily, in which he spoke of the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Church’s life.”

“As we honor (Jesus) today in the Eucharist, as we bow down in worship before him,” the archbishop said, “let us stir up in our hearts a renewed devotion to this – the heart of our Catholic faith. And as we carry him through the streets of Portland, through the Pearl District of all places may the light of Christ, the truth of the Gospel, the mercy of God, shine forth brightly to all who will gaze upon him.”