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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Thousands set to take to the streets as procession season sweeps Sydney

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As winter looms and the temperature drops, procession season heats up, with Sydney gearing up for the incredible sight of thousands of Catholic faithful taking to the streets.

Over the next four weeks, an estimated 20,000 believers will gather for two major processions—for the feasts of Our Lady of Fatima and Corpus Christi.

Numbers continue to swell in size each year and the remarkable growth and popularity of attendance numbers at these events is the subject of a new documentary by the Archdiocese of Sydney.

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It explores the history of processions in Australia and why the Sydney faithful since early settlement days have embraced the opportunities they offer to profess their faith publicly.

The film features breathtaking footage from some of the biggest processions in recent history, complemented by illuminating interviews with Bishop Richard Umbers and Fr Peter Williams of the Catholic Institute of Sydney and Australian Catholic University.

In the film Fr Williams traces the origins of processions in Australia to his own diocese of Parramatta, where he currently serves as the vicar general.

Walk with Christ procession 2023. Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

“The first procession [and] first public Mass that was celebrated in Australia was in the early 19th century in Parramatta. People would want to give public witness to their faith,” he said.

Bishop Umbers has overseen some of Sydney’s biggest processions in recent years and witnessed “exponential” growth in the number of participants.

“It makes everyone stop and wonder. They are signs of God, God is present. God is still with us,” he said.

This weekend, thousands of Sydney’s faithful are expected to gather for the second feast of Our Lady of Fatima procession, on 11 May at St Mary’s Cathedral.

The event begins at 6pm with a Vigil Mass followed by a candlelit procession around the cathedral forecourt.

“On the way to World Youth Day last year, we decided to have the Fatima procession at the cathedral, and it was really beautiful,” said Bishop Umbers.

“There are many people, I think, especially amongst those who have a belief in Jesus, who feel like they’re on their own.

“And one of the reasons for bringing all those young people together is to [say] you’re not alone.”

Fr Williams expects huge numbers to attend this time as well, particularly among young Catholics.

“The fact is that we’re seeing an increasing number of people wanting to participate in processions, and I think that’s a healthy sign because it says I’m ready to hold up and wave the flag, so to speak,” he said.

Our Lady of Fatima procession 2023. Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

Following the Fatima procession will be the Walk with Christ procession on Sunday, 2 June starting with a festival at 1pm in Martin Place.

Last year, the event drew more than 10,000 faithful to the centre of Sydney.

“You can see there’s been a big increase in the numbers of people who come into the city for the Corpus Christi procession. It’s always been popular. I think because we’ve given more practical support as well, putting buses on for parishes, parishes have been supporting it,” said Bishop Umbers.

The boom in procession attendances in Sydney was first witnessed a century ago at the 29th International Eucharistic congress in 1928. It saw half a million people line the streets.

With the Archdiocese of Sydney hoping to potentially host the International Eucharistic Congress in 2028, it’s hoped the passion for procession will continue.

“What public processions by Catholics do is to say we won’t be pushed into the realm of the private and we’re going to do it the way that we’ve always done it, and that is by being out there on the street and being public and saying we’re here and we’re not going away and this is what we do,” said Fr Williams.

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