If this year’s Walk with Christ underlined anything, it’s that we’re not going to get very far in the new evangelisation without lots of processions and popular piety. For a simple reason: Christianity is only ever a group thing. It only grows when we are together.
This too is for a simple reason: being human is only ever a group thing. Made in the image of a God who is a communion of persons giving themselves to each other, human beings only function and flourish in acts of gift of self in communion with each other.
Processions are probably the easiest and simplest way, even more than the Mass, to deepen our encounter with Christ. You don’t have to know the responses. You don’t need to know where to put your knee or hands or bum.
You don’t have to make a donation. You just turn up. And, despite yourself, you are carried into the rhythm and prayer and mystery of the march.
There’s this point in the procession where we wheel left around Hyde Park Barracks into College Street. Any priest can grab a quick glance back at what’s happening behind him.
Like most of the blokes my rapid look blew me away: there were not simply a few marchers in Macquarie Street—it was overflowing with people.
Unlike the Mass too, and unlike all kinds of courses and retreats, the distanced don’t need to be talked into it. It simply unfolds into their senses, unasked.
We saw this continuously yesterday. As we weaved up Hunter Street, the footpaths were flowered with couples and families gobsmacked about what they were seeing and hearing and smelling. Some stared open-mouthed. Some quickly snapped photos. Many considered with wonder.
And all of it profoundly peaceful, without having to shout and blast like so many of the attention-seeking protests which occasionally colour our streets. Because we weren’t there firstly to proclaim our faith.
We were there to pray, for all the occupants of our city, and for each other, each other’s families and situations. Because the inhabitants of our city desperately need prayer, so appalling are the realities of some of our people’s lives.
Especially for our courts, for which we have such a high regard, and our parliament, for which such regard is becoming more difficult to carry.
Jesus, we had heard, was going to walk our streets last Sunday. Our hearts’ desire. And so we went to meet him. And as St Peter remarked at the transfiguration, it was simply good to be there with him.
And this was the feedback from our parishioners. We had for the first time organised a bus to help bring our parishioners from the church to the heart of the procession simply and quickly.
Their remarks afterwards were illuminating. Everyone was joyful. Everyone was immensely glad that they had taken the time to participate.
Everyone had been surprised to find that the structure of this traditional kind of procession had helped them to pray, had rapidly increased their faith, and had helped them to enter into a far deeper communion with their brothers and sisters.
They were glad to have been able to take time in what they thought was a really effective prayer for our city.
And they were immensely encouraged by the unexpectedly large number of ordinary people, just like them, who came to spend time with Jesus, and with each other.
The question of carrying our parish banner perhaps illustrates the change wrought. Beforehand it was a question as to which 2 or 4 people would have to carry the banner.
After the procession I discovered that the question had immediately disappeared once the walk began: pretty much everyone had tried to have a go.
So praise God for providing us with such a simple and easy and human way to evangelise. May our processions of the Blessed Sacrament, of the rosary, of Our Lady, of the parish saint, and of the stations of the cross fill our streets and public spaces with the reality of the goodness of the love of God so transformative for all of us, participants and onlookers.