Seminarian Michael Hickey (L) and Father Jonathan Norton (R), pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, stand next to a sign for Sunday’s Eucharistic Procession and Festival in front of Sacred Heart Church. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Seminarian Michael Hickey (L) and Father Jonathan Norton (R), pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, stand next to a sign for Sunday’s Eucharistic Procession and Festival in front of Sacred Heart Church. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Projections for the Eucharistic Procession and Festival attendance Sunday have jumped from 3,000 to over 5,000 people.

“We have 3,000 signed up and they’re expecting probably 5,000. So it’s going to be huge,” Father Jonathan Norton, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, said in an interview Tuesday morning. “For a while, when I would tell people we were expecting 3,000, the congregation would have the face of like, ‘Wow! That’s really great!’ And when I said for the first time now we’re expecting 5,000, it all kind of turned to panic like, ‘Where are we going to put these people?’”

He said it’s going to be a little wild with so many people, but also a great thing.

“It’s meant to be a blessing. It’s not just supposed to be a Catholic thing. Everyone is welcome. We hope that people would come whether they want to process with us or even just witness the movement of these people who have come to say, ‘We want to be here for Jesus. We want to profess our faith for others to see and know that they’re called into this as well.’ The church wants to remain inclusive, we want to keep the doors open. We want people to know they’re invited to come out and participate, especially in the procession, in the festival and follow up with questions and stuff like that. We hope there can be some dialogue as well,” Norton said.

The Eucharistic Procession is a kick-off for the national movement in the Catholic Church of a Eucharistic revival. Eucharist refers to the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.

“So at Mass, when a priest or bishop consecrates the bread and wine, it becomes, in its substance it changes to the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. This is central to our faith as Catholics and belief that this has been a part of the church since the very beginning that Jesus founded on the night of his trial and crucification, that at the last supper he gave to the Apostles this great gift of his body, blood and saying, ‘Take in the bread, this is my body. Take in the blood, this is my blood.’ And giving us this sacrament then, which is the symbol of grace,” Norton explained.

He said the Eucharist is very important and a great gift from Jesus.

“In this time, especially after the pandemic, the bishops of the United States looked around and were like, ‘There’s a lot of people hurting. There’s a lot of people in need of healing. There’s a lot of people who are lacking faith, and people aren’t turning to this source that we have in the Eucharist, turning to Jesus in this way,’” Norton said.

That led them to call for the revival. For the next three years, there will be a focus on presenting this teaching to people in the church and outside of it as well.

“The Eucharist Procession is a beautiful way to do it because it’s on Corpus Christi Sunday. Corpus Christi is Latin for body of Christ,” He said.

The procession is happening in Warsaw, Norton said, because the city is in the center of the 80-church Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has asked as many Catholics as possible to be a part of the procession.

Planning for the procession and festival started last summer, Norton said.

“It’s coming together. There’s a lot of moving parts and there’s obviously things that you can’t plan for, but that’s part of a pilgrimage. You just have to adapt, but we tried to make all of the accommodations that we can,” he said.

There will be some water and first aid stations. Parking will be at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds, and buses will take people from there to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church campus. There will be no parking at the church, though there will be some handicapped parking off Harrison Street. Some churches are bringing charter buses to drop people off.

“From 2:30 to 3 (p.m.), we’re going to have choirs in front of Sacred Heart and it’s multicultural, so we’ve got some groups from - obviously, singing in Spanish from different parts of South and Central America; we have a group from Africa, I think maybe Nigeria, and I’m not sure what other groups, but there’s going to be all sorts of different languages and cultures represented,” Norton said.

The word Catholic means universal, he said, so “it may not always seem like the Catholic Church is so inclusive, has so many different cultures represented, but it is. We’re throughout the world, in every language, in every tongue. Even within our diocese, there’s a lot of different cultures represented who are Catholic. Even in our parish, we have people from France, from Poland, from Ireland, from Italy. Obviously, all across South and Central America. Even here at the parish, we have quite the mix of cultures.”

The procession begins at Sacred Heart at 3 p.m. Sunday, down Main Street, around the Zimmer Biomet building and makes a stop at Central Park.

At Central Park, there will be buses to take people back to the fairgrounds, church or to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (the final destination for the procession) for anyone who can’t keep going in the procession. Until the end of the festival, at around 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe, buses will continue to transport people back to Sacred Heart or the fairgrounds.

Detroit Street (Ind. 15 North) will be closed during the procession from Central Park to Our Lady of Guadalupe because there are no sidewalks or other safe way to make that pilgrimage. Indiana Department of Transportation and the city of Warsaw Board of Public Works and Safety previously granted the road closures.

At the festival at Our Lady of Guadalupe, there will be different food and other vendors and other things related to the Catholic Church.

“But that closing ceremony when we get there, before the festival, is going to be very beautiful as well. It’s called Benediction and it’s where the bishop will bless all the people that are there with the Eucharist,” Norton said, adding that it will be interesting to see.

“But I think just to see the diversity, and also the unity ... I’ve been part of these before, like at World Youth Day, where, in those cases we would have a million people, from all around the world. You would walk next to somebody you don’t even know their language they’re speaking, and the security guards are just baffled. They’ve never seen a crowd this large before that’s just so joyful and so peaceful. We’re all on the same team, we’re all Christians, so I expect the same. I expect that this is going to be a very joyful thing to see moving through our city, and I hope it brings hope. I hope it brings encouragement to everyone, whether they’re a member of the Catholic church or not,” Norton said.

Sunday’s Eucharistic Procession and Festival is just the beginning of the three-year revival.

This first year is at the diocese level with all the churches. The second year, 2023-24, is supposed to be at the parish level, he said, so “we still have to do a lot of planning ourselves, but we do, at Sacred Heart, do plan to have some more events that will welcome people of any faith background to come and join us and feel included.”

First though, Norton said he really hopes 5,000 or more people come out Sunday for the procession.

“Even if it is only 3,000, to see thousands of people praying, singing and walking through the streets of Warsaw, seeking solidarity, seeking unity, again, I just really hope that brings like an uplifting spirit to the city,” he said.

For more information about the procession and festival, visit the website at www.diocesefwsb.org/Eucharist.