Browsing The Northern Cross

Overwhelmed by joy: Thousands of northern Minnesota Catholics process through Duluth

By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

Just below the Civic Center in Duluth, looking down Fifth Avenue West, a child could see something important and had to tell a parent.

“I see Jesus!”

For a large collection of photos from the Eucharistic Procession, see this album.

Sure enough, blocks ahead down the hill, already crossing over I-35, was the canopy under which Jesus, in the Blessed Sacrament, was leading perhaps 2,500 to 3,000 Catholics on the last leg of a Eucharistic Procession through the city Sept. 12 that would culminate in Mass at the DECC, just around the bend. It was all in honor of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Duluth.

An extraordinary day

One could say that the day was extraordinary in the life of the local church, but only because adjectives fail.

Catholics, many coming in buses from their parish or on the shuttles transferring people from the DECC, poured in from every corner of the diocese, young and old, clergy and religious and lay people, many wearing distinctive shirts and scarves and carrying banners, all wearing the distinctive blue backpacks packed with programs, rosaries, snacks and water.

Other notable sights were fourth-degree Knights of Columbus and altar servers dressed for Mass leading the way, and a host of maroon-clad Catholic students from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Gathering on a perfect late summer day before the Cathedral of Our Lady to grab a quick hot dog lunch and line up, the crowd filled streets and parking lots in a sea of color. One Duluth pastor, giving an interview to a media outlet, suggested it might be the largest gathering of Catholics in the diocese in living memory.

The procession, beginning at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, took a route of about four miles and filled at times to four, five or even six city blocks with Catholics, past homes and businesses and through busy intersections.

Too big to coordinate everyone, groups through the long procession prayed the rosary, sang hymns and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or simply caught up with old friends.

Along the route, cars stopped and waited patiently and onlookers marvelled. The procession made three prayer stops, including one at St. Mary’s Medical Center and one at the Damiano Center, near the old Sacred Heart Cathedral where, 125 years ago, the first bishop of Duluth greeted the faithful.

Throughout, there was extensive media coverage and social media coverage with the hashtag #duluthcatholic125, with many photos and well wishes both from participants and those far away being projected at the DECC for those who were praying there, uable to walk in the procession.

“Celebrating with all of you from a far! I love my diocese!” Jenny Boran tweeted.

Billy Menor, from the Cathedral, who just began his discernment this fall as a Jesuit novice, tweeted: “We are a pilgrim people, a family of believers. United in one spirit, ignited by the fire. Still burning thru the ages.”

In one particularly poignant moment, Father Ben Hadrich, a young priest of the diocese who had been rushed to the hospital with life-threatening bleeding on his brain a couple of weeks earlier and was continuing his recovery at St. Mary’s Medical Center, was able to come out and carry the monstrance for a short time.

‘Perfect — in every way’

“God blessed us with a glorious day, with radiant sunshine and a light breeze – perfect – in every way,” said Benedictine Sister Beverly Raway, prioress of St. Scholastica Monastery, the history of which is interwoven with the entire history of the Diocese of Duluth.

She said she was struck by the children helping to hand out backpacks. “As I watched the children, I remembered some of my own faith experiences as a child. I thought and said to many — ‘they will remember this day, forever.’”

“We waved to onlookers on the grassy slopes of front yards and I wondered what they thought — and prayed the witness of our faith might stir their faith to action,” she added.

Jeanne Kuhn, from St. Paul’s Church in Remer, said her joy in her faith had grown. “After participating in the walk I am even more proud, excited, and happy to be a Catholic especially in this diocese,” she said. “We are so blessed to have such holy men leading us on our journey of faith. We are also blessed to be a part of a faith-filled community of believers.”

Benedictine Sister Therese Carson said, “It was empowering to see all those many people from all over the diocese participating in the procession and know that they represent only a small portion of all the Catholics in our area. The power of the Holy Spirit blowing through the crowds of those many patient, friendly people was incredible.”

Stephen Marino, from Queen of Peace Church in Cloquet, said the effects of the day will be far-reaching. “The 125th anniversary Eucharistic Procession will forever change the spiritual landscape of the Diocese of Duluth for generations to come,” he said.

For some, it called to mind one of the missionaries who spread the faith to northeastern Minnesota, Ven. Frederick Baraga.

Deacon Rodger Brannan, from the Cathedral, said he had to wear a “dorky” hat in the procession to protect himself from skin cancer, and his family had said it called to mind the “wilderness pioneers” who “braved many a cold winter in the name of evangelization.” At their suggestion, he took to calling it his “Bishop Baraga hat.”

Stephanie Winter, of St. Benedict in Duluth, who comes from the Marquette Diocese where Baraga was the first bishop, also thought of him along the way.

“When I thought of my own minor discomforts from a four-mile trek, I was humbled by the thought of the thousands of miles he travelled on foot or snowshoe right here in the Northland,” she said. “I know he was with us and was rejoicing in our Diocese’s 125th anniversary.”

Massive Mass

The Mass filled the entire floor of the DECC Arena and spilled into the second-level seating.

As the procession joined the group already gathered there, Bishop Paul Sirba celebrated Benediction to close the procession, and then everyone prepared for Mass. During the wait, a historical video of the Diocese of Duluth made its debut.

“The Catholic Church knows how to plan a birthday party!” Bishop Sirba said in his homily, adding that “the Lord has blessed us in answer to our prayers” with the beautiful event.

“We know how to throw a party because Jesus is at the center of all we do,” he said.

He noted that a procession had gone up the hill from the harbor to Sacred Heart Cathedral when the diocese’s first bishop, James McGolrick, had arrived.

“In the Eucharist, we carry Jesus. We are fed by Jesus, and today we walked with Jesus,” he said.

He said that though clouds may be gathering the culture, Catholics are called to present the joy of the Gospel.

“We take up our crosses and follow him,” he said. “It’s really as simple as that.”

He noted the great contributions represented at the prayer stops – hospitals and the Damiano Center — and said the church feeds and clothes and assists people. “The Eucharist in this procession today is the foundation of our charity.”

He issued two challenges: to allow ourselves to be transformed by God into saints and to bring people in.

“It’s a privilege, it’s a joy, to bring people to Jesus,” he said.

The Mass included prayers in a variety of languages. Liturgical music came from a choir drawn from people across the diocese. The gifts were presented by women religious from the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and St. Scholastica Monastery.