Eucharistic Congress brings Jesus to the streets of the North End

BRAINTREE -- Father Eric Cadin couldn't believe that nobody honked their horns.

On the evening of April 13, he and over 500 others marched in a eucharistic procession through the streets of Boston's North End, adding even more activity to a neighborhood that is already packed with diners and tourists on a typical Saturday night. The hundreds of marchers stopped in multiple locations for adoration and benediction and set up a temporary altar in the middle of Hanover Street. They knelt before the altar and prayed in silence for five minutes.

"It was amazing to see the great interest that people had from their apartments and restaurants," Father Cadin told The Pilot in an April 18 interview. "There was no negativity or animosity. There weren't even cars honking who were held up for five to 20 minutes as traffic had to be stopped. It was a really beautiful witness to our Catholic faith and belief in the Eucharist and hope for young people in the church here in Boston."

The April 13 procession was part of a weekend-long Eucharistic Congress based out of Sacred Heart Church in the North End, part of St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish. The congress featured Masses, adoration, and guest speakers Pete Burak, vice president of Michigan-based Renewal Ministries; Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, foundress of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth; and Father Matt Williams, pastor of St. J's Collaborative in Quincy. The congress was organized by the Archdiocese of Boston Office of Vocations and Office of University Missions. Father Cadin is the director of both.

"We were thinking it would be great to re-engage young Catholics," he said, "especially to be excited and celebrate our Catholic faith."

The Archdiocese of Boston previously held Eucharistic Congresses in the North End from 2011 to 2013. Father Cadin decided to revive the practice in order to coincide with the National Eucharistic Revival launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was hoping that at least 100 people would register for this year's congress, 150 did.

"It was fantastic," he said. "There was a great team of volunteers from the young adult communities who helped organize."

Father Michael Zimmerman, assistant vocation director for the archdiocese, attended the Eucharistic Congresses when he was in college and seminary. He thought they were "just awesome," and he and Father Cadin wanted to bring back the tradition.

"It was very enriching, very rewarding," Father Zimmerman told The Pilot in an April 18 interview. "It kind of came together, not last-minute, but we only really committed to it maybe in January."

He said that for many of those who attended, it was their first eucharistic procession or extended adoration.

"It's a beautiful celebration of our faith," he said.

At the congress, he heard speakers describe their personal encounters with Jesus and "the joy of being Catholic."

"Hearing stories like that made me appreciate the gift of the Eucharist," he said, "and how much Jesus desires to give himself to us."

Angeli Fernandes, a parishioner at St. Leonard's, led worship throughout the weekend. Speaking to The Pilot on April 19, she said that the Eucharistic Congress showed the unity of the Archdiocese of Boston, and the unity between humanity and Jesus in the Eucharist.

"I have a desire to let people know that the Eucharist should be at the center of our lives," she said, "our mission for evangelization, our prayer, to help us understand who we are in the world around us."

During the procession, she was happy to see people in her neighborhood "recognize Jesus."

"The Catholic Church is such a big part of the North End already," she said, "and there were lots of tourists, so it was really cool to see people who would've never walked into a church, for Jesus to come to them. That's who Jesus is. He's someone who comes to the people. He wants to be there with them."