UT-Chattanooga students participate in eucharistic procession on campus
By Jim Wogan
The Diocese of Knoxville is proving that there is more than one way to participate in the National Eucharistic Revival, a multi-year effort by U.S. bishops, who are inviting the faithful to a closer encounter and fuller understanding of what the holy Eucharist means to the Catholic Church.
The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus hosted a parish revival in April featuring Bishop Ron Hicks of Joliet, Ill. All Saints Parish hosted Dr. Timothy O’Malley in January to speak about his book, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life. Many parishes in the diocese already offer eucharistic adoration and will continue to do so.
And in Chattanooga on April 12, students, clergy, and FOCUS missionaries celebrated evening Mass and then participated in a one-mile eucharistic procession on the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga campus.
“As our team was talking about what our students need here—it was a lot of, we need to go out. We need to go and talk to the other students on campus about Jesus, about our faith, about why we believe and what we believe,” said Ryan Vaughan, a FOCUS missionary at the UT-C Newman Center.
Mr. Vaughan is one of five FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries on the Chattanooga campus. Their presence at UT-C is supported financially by the Diocese of Knoxville, which also funds FOCUS missionaries on the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus.
He said the idea for a eucharistic procession met two needs: first, fulfilling the call of U.S. bishops to emphatically remind all Catholics about the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and second, to engage others in discussions about the Catholic faith.
Mr. Vaughan’s FOCUS team approached Deacon Brian Gabor, a diocesan campus minister who also serves at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga, and asked about organizing a eucharistic procession on the UT-C campus. With the support of Father Valentin Iurochkin, Newman Center chaplain and associate pastor of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, the wheels were in motion.
Mr. Vaughan admitted that the students had plenty of questions.
“A lot of our students asked, ‘why are we doing this?’ or said, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’”
Caleb Hennigan, a member of the Chattanooga FOCUS team, spoke to students before the procession, reviewed the path they would follow, and advised them how to engage with anyone they encountered along the way.
“We love our neighbor and our desire for Jesus. Go share that with them. Start a conversation; have joy. It is Easter; we need reverence, but we also need joy—joy in the Gospel, joy in the resurrection,” Mr. Vaughan said.
Prior to the procession, Mass was celebrated by Father Iurochkin. Father David Carter, rector of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, attended in choir. Deacon Gabor read from the Gospel of Luke and offered the homily.
The Scripture reading was a perfect fit for the procession.
“The reading was the Road to Emmaus, and that is my favorite passage in the Gospels. I emphasized it in the homily for two reasons,” Deacon Gabor said. “It taught me and helped me see that Jesus is in the Old Testament. It says he explained to the two disciples where he is in the Old Testament and went through Scripture. That was a very exciting time for me years ago when I was just starting to walk a journey of faith. It just boosted me and told me that this is for real— this is for real.
“Second, the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus initially when they were walking, but it was in the breaking of the bread. Those two aspects of the passage in the Road to Emmaus are my two favorites, but it goes so deep, and it is so beautiful that I don’t feel like I can do it justice. I love to listen to Scripture scholars that do a wonderful job explaining it,” Deacon Gabor added.
It was also Deacon Gabor’s first eucharistic procession.
“I loved it. This is where I went to college, and it was just very awesome to walk the grounds with Jesus and the Blessed Sacrament right in front of me like that, and to see the other students stop and stare, and wonder what it was about, and hopefully they will seek, and they will find. It was an awesome experience for me to be with these wonderful young people. It was just amazing,” he said.
The 30-person procession followed a one-mile path along sidewalks from the Newman Center to Chamberlain Field, the heart of the UT-C campus. Once there, Father Iurochkin offered a brief benediction before the procession continued through campus back to the Newman Center.
Their silence was broken only when singing All Creatures of Our God and King; Alleluia, Sing to Jesus; and other familiar Catholic hymns.
Students and onlookers watched the procession respectfully as it passed. Mr. Vaughan said the FOCUS ministers were ready to answer questions if they came up.
“Hopefully the vestments, the incense, and the cross all pointed to the round gold thing (monstrance) with the white thing (Eucharist) in middle, and people are going to say…what is that? Why are these people walking with that? My hope is that questions begin to stir, maybe they look it up, and they see us, or go to the basilica. It is to stir that question within them. What is going on? I have never seen anything like this.”
Led by a cross-bearer who was followed by acolytes carrying candles and incense, Father Iurochkin, fully vested and wearing a humeral veil in which to hold the monstrance and Blessed Sacrament, led the procession along uneven sidewalks, up and down stairs, and under tree-lined pathways, which eventually took the group back to the front of the Newman Center, where 13 more concrete stairs had to be climbed before the procession concluded.
The risk of a misstep was always present, and Father Iurochkin admitted that concentration was important.
“It’s exciting, and it can be tough, hard with (all) the vestments. But it is cool knowing how great your reward will be. For me, this is very important because it prepares us so that we may not only be here, inside the church, but also outside, having the opportunity to really testify our Christian faith publicly,” Father Iurochkin said.
“Sometimes it is indirectly just passing by students who are just hanging out after a hard day, and you never know what may change in their hearts. Passing by and seeing the monstrance or the crucifix, the candles, the Blessed Sacrament, you never know how Christ himself, through me in persona Christi, can change the heart of a person,” he added.
Also participating in the procession was Deacon Jim Bello, director of Christian Formation for the Diocese of Knoxville and leader of the diocesan Eucharistic Revival effort. Deacon Bello also serves at Holy Spirit Church in Soddy-Daisy.
“The parishes and ministries of the diocese are accomplishing something very special right now, and we are way ahead of schedule with what the U.S. bishops have asked,” Deacon Bello said. “Technically, we’re still in the first phase of what has been outlined—with diocesan initiatives.”
Deacon Bello noted that U.S. bishops have directed that the next phase of the three-year revival begins in June and will “foster eucharistic devotion at the parish level, strengthening liturgical life through faithful celebration of the Mass, eucharistic adoration, missions, resources, preaching, and organic movements of the Holy Spirit.”
The National Eucharistic Revival concludes with the National Eucharistic Congress scheduled in Indianapolis July 17-24, 2024.