By Natalie Romano
In a history-making move, Bishop Alberto Rojas carried the Blessed Sacrament out of Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral and into a storm.
The leader of our diocese was accompanied by dozens of priests, seminarians, Knights of Columbus and a seemingly endless stream of people in heavy jackets and umbrellas.
The crowd of nearly 1,000 Catholics took to the waterlogged streets of San Bernardino for a Eucharistic Procession, the first ever led by an Ordinary Bishop in the 45 years of the Diocese.
Bystanders might have called it crazy. Bishop Rojas called it divine.
“I thought as the raindrops were falling and hitting our umbrellas, that’s the voice of God saying ‘That’s the Lamb of God you are following. Behold the Lamb of God,’” Bishop Rojas said during his homily at the Mass following the Procession. “...This is what we want to say to the world, let’s get back to God.”
The Jan. 14 event kicked off the Diocese’s observance of the larger National Eucharistic Revival called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). During this three-year period the faithful are being asked to focus on the meaning of the Eucharist and strengthen their relationship with Christ.
Along the 1.4-mile route of the procession, attendees sang hymns or recited prayers, some carrying rosaries or religious statues. Seminarians Christopher Rodriguez and Oliver Garcia-Tirado caught the eye of many with their dedicated effort to keep the monstrance (which holds the Eucharist) incensed; Garcia-Tirado walked the entire route backwards while being led by Rodriguez. Even more attention-getting: when Bishop Rojas left the shelter of the processional canopy and joined the crowd. New convert Robin Dorkowski was overcome with emotion.
“When the monstrance went past me, it made me cry,” said Dorkowski, parishioner of Our Lady of the Desert, Apple Valley. “...I expected the Bishop to be all dry and perfect, but no, he’s out with everyone.”
Locals in the crowd, like Elizabeth Garcia, were happy to share this day with parishioners from all over the Diocese.
“It’s nice to belong, to be able to adore together, to worship together, even in the rain,” said a smiling Garcia, parishioner of Our Lady of the Rosary. “It’s a blessing. We need it.”
Walking next to Garcia was fellow parishioner and former San Bernardino City Councilman Jim Mulvihill, who likened the procession to a team building exercise. “This is getting everyone together to focus on the same objective,” said Mulvihill. “The Eucharist is the bread of life. It’s the fundamental Sacrament of our faith.”
There were four planned stops along the procession route. At each location, a Gospel passage was proclaimed, and a short prayer was recited. The monstrance was then passed to the different clergy leaders of San Bernardino, but never with bare hands. Priests traditionally use a liturgical vestment called a humeral veil to touch the monstrance. After Bishop Rojas, the monstrance was carried by several San Bernardino parish priests: Father Duong Nguyen, S.V.D., Pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral; Father Rogelio Gonzalez, V.F., Pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption; Father Manuel Cardoza, Pastor of Our Lady of Hope; and Father Leonard DePasquale, I.M.C., Administrator of St. Bernardine. It was ultimately passed back to Bishop Rojas.
The stops took place outside of Angie’s Bakery, Holy Rosary Academy and Preschool, and the homes of Our Lady of the Rosary parishioners Lorenzo and Maria Garcia and Pablo and Araceli Acuna. The couples watched from their front porches as the procession arrived.
“It’s very much an honor,” said Pablo Acuna. “I felt joy and pride having the presence of God at our house.”
That firm belief in the Real Presence is what the USCCB wants to encourage during the Eucharistic Revival. The Catholic faith holds that when priests say the Eucharistic Prayer during Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Yet according to a 2019 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 31 percent of Catholics actually believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
“That’s a scandal,” proclaimed Bishop Rojas during his homily. “The world is too secular ... Every single time we celebrate, it’s Jesus himself.”
“I hope [this Eucharistic Revival] will bring more people that are Catholic to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus,” he said.
Ursula Hinkson sits on the diocesan Eucharistic Revival Planning Committee and helped keep eventgoers on route and out of traffic. She believes in the goals of the Revival, saying it’s easy to go through the motions at Mass.
“We step into church, we receive Communion, and we just walk away,” said Hinkson, a parishioner of Christ the Good Shepherd, Adelanto. “We have to remember we’re carrying the Body of Christ within us and be sacred as we receive that Sacrament.”
Vice Chancellor and Director of Communications John Andrews led the planning committee. He says he was gratified by the number of people that braved the elements in order to be a part of the procession.
“The Catholic faithful of this diocese never fail to show their love of God and the Eucharist in a public way,” said Andrews. “The people walked determinedly and joyfully in the heavy rain. I think they were hungry for something like this.”
Andrews went on to say their resolve demonstrated to others what it really means to be Catholic, noting that people occasionally came out of their homes or businesses to watch the proceedings.
One of the largest groups in the procession came from Our Lady of Guadalupe, San Bernardino. Many wore parish sweatshirts and carried signs. RCIA teacher Noemi Trujillo invited her students so they could see they’re a part of something bigger than their own church community. The students, huddled under umbrellas, walked the procession, and took in the entire scene.
“We’re witnessing something grand here,” said Christopher Larios, an Our Lady of Guadalupe RCIA student. “It’s great to be a part of this huge loving community. I can’t take the Eucharist yet but when I do, I know I'll be receiving the presence and love of Christ.”
Some families walked with young children wrapped up in rain gear or bundled up in strollers. Jeannette Ali brought her six-year-old daughter Annika who attends Sacred Heart Academy in Redlands. Ali says she wanted her daughter to experience this “act of devotion” to Jesus.
“This is a historic event with the Bishop leading the procession and I wanted her to be a part of it,” explained Ali, parishioner at The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands. “When she gets older, she’ll look back at this and be proud.”
After Mass, all were invited to the parish hall for food made by Cathedral volunteers. In its ongoing observance of the Eucharistic Revival, the Diocese will host a Eucharistic Congress on April 29.
Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.