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(Photo by Andy Sanchez)

Downtown Denver ground to a halt Sunday morning, as nearly five thousand faithful descended upon the economic, legal and legislative centers of the City and State, following the Eucharistic Lord Jesus in procession as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

The Junípero Serra route of the pilgrimage, which started in San Francisco and arrived in Colorado Wednesday, has made its way through the Archdiocese of Denver, with stops at St. Ignatius Church in RangelyHoly Name Parish in Steamboat Springs, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder, St. Joan of Arc Parish in ArvadaLight of the World Parish in Littleton and Holy Protection Byzantine Catholic Church in Denver. The pilgrimage also visited Camp St. Malo’s St. Catherine Chapel on the Rock, the Augustine Institute, Christ in the City and the Mother Cabrini Shrine.

The Colorado portion of the pilgrimage culminated in Sunday’s events, with nearly five thousand faithful prayerfully processing through downtown in what is likely the largest Eucharistic procession in Denver history – and which might be the largest procession the Serra route has seen so far.

With hymns and prayers echoing through the downtown streets, Denverites couldn’t help but stop and take notice as their Eucharistic Lord passed by – a complete change of pace for downtown’s typical busyness.

The historic day began at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, where Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrated Mass for a massive congregation, overflowing from the cathedral.

In his homily, Archbishop Aquila noted the countercultural witness of those gathered. Just like Adam and Eve in Sunday’s first reading, Catholic Christians today are in the midst of a spiritual battle, striving to move ever closer to Christ and to reject the falsities of the world.

By surrendering to Christ and imploring that God’s will be done, we become friends – brothers, sisters and mothers – of Christ and saints, Archbishop Aquila said, referring to Sunday’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of St. Mark.

“We must listen to the voice of Jesus, to the voice of God, not our own voice. That is essential,” he said, encouraging those gathered to ask themselves, “Who do I trust more?”

“The only way that peace will come into our world, the only way that the joy that Jesus has desired for us will enter our hearts, and the only way that peace will happen within our hearts and souls is if we surrender, if we give ourselves completely to him who is love,” Archbishop Aquila continued.

In short, Jesus’ own complete, total, loving surrender gives a profound example for those living the Christian life; we are called to live the same self-gift that Jesus lives in each Eucharist.

“In the Eucharist, he has left us the greatest gift he could: his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity,” the archbishop added, expounding on St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians in Sunday’s second reading. “Every time you and I receive the Eucharist, what we see is bread and wine. It is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is the second person of the Trinity, risen and ascended to the Father, seated at the right hand of the Father, who we receive. Why? Because he has said so, and we take Jesus at his word. He is faithful, and it is truly his gift for us as we journey on this earth.”

As Mass concluded, the great gift of the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the Cathedral for those gathered to adore. Then, bringing to life the dismissal of every Mass, the congregation literally went forth, proclaiming the Gospel with their lives as they took to the streets of Denver in procession.

“As we accompany Jesus through the hustle and bustle of economic, legal and legislative centers of the City and State, I am reminded of the way Jesus stopped to heal the woman with a hemorrhage in the Gospel of Mark,” Archbishop Aquila said of the historic procession through downtown. “Even amid the busyness of his day, Jesus stopped to encounter his beloved daughter and heal her. During these days, Jesus comes to encounter his beloved sons and daughters in northern Colorado, in the heart of Denver.”

Indeed, Jesus came to encounter his people on the streets of Denver, as the Eucharist was processed down Colfax Avenue, around Civic Center and the United States Mint, up 14th Avenue, and down Lincoln Street.

The procession made its way in front of the Colorado State Capitol, where Denverites could be seen gathering for photos and watching from the Capitol’s balcony.

Upon arrival at the Capitol, Archbishop Aquila paused and offered a Eucharistic blessing, praying for the legislators, staffers and the work inside.

“It is a profound joy to see so many of the faithful throughout the Archdiocese of Denver gathered in prayer and witness to Jesus. Through our joyfully countercultural witness to our abiding relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I pray that many come to know Jesus Christ, so that all might be rescued and have abundant life, for the glory of the Father,” Archbishop Aquila told the Denver Catholic.

In a moving testament to the catholicity (universality) of the Church, thousands of faithful from across the archdiocese followed the Lord Jesus, representing different parish communities, ministries, ages, races, ethnicities, and languages.

As the Eucharistic Lord made his way through the heart of the city, shouts of “Viva Cristo Rey!” and “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” resounded and were coupled with hymns in English, Latin and Spanish.

“It was really profound to see Christ in the monstrance, in the Eucharist, coming down the streets of Denver,” said Grace Eckard. “Christ is for everyone and anyone, even walking by. We heard people asking ‘What is this? What’s happening right now?’ And it was so profound, like they don’t know Christ, but Christ is here for them and we’re coming down the street for them as well.”

The feeling of unity and community among believers was palpable through Sunday’s display of devotion. For Senite Sahlezghi, that unity in faith-filled pilgrimage was striking.

“It felt like the Church! It was the communion of saints processing in together – Church triumphant, church militant – and, it felt like we were all on pilgrimage towards the goal, which is him,” Sahlezghi shared.

For those gathered in prayer, worship, community and witness, Jesus indeed was the goal: coming to receive his love more deeply, know and love him more profoundly, and witnessing to him more boldly.

As they walked with him through the very heart of Denver, some couldn’t help but reflect on how Jesus has knocked on the doors of their own hearts.

“As a new convert to Catholicism, the Eucharist means everything. It’s the source and summit of our faith. It’s what drew me to convert to Catholicism,” said Tracy, who was recently received into the Catholic Church. “Every time I receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I’m overwhelmed with humility and love. It’s amazing. I would invite everybody to come into this. The fact that we all receive from the one Body of Christ, nothing can beat it.”

Others were struck by the importance, power and grace of the Eucharist, of their faith in Jesus and his Church, which was on full display Sunday.

“For us, the Eucharist means life. It provides us the life the force to move forward in our family. Without it, we’re lost, struggling around in this world but it gives us a point, a direction to go,” Huy Le shared with the Denver Catholic.

“This is awesome that we have something so cool to process about,” shared Maura Lee, who has only attended two Eucharistic processions including Sunday’s. Though more comfortable in one-on-one interactions, Lee said she found herself warming up to the boldness of Sunday’s procession. “It’s nice to be here; it’s good to be here with so many others and with Jesus.”

“It was beautiful to see so many faithful gathered together, religious and lay alike. It was truly an embodiment of the universal Church,” said Alison Naughton. “There was such a pride in Mother Church. We were all excited to walk with our Lord throughout the streets of Denver. The victory of our Lord was so tangible.”

“It was beautiful to walk both with and by faith, and to prayerfully witness to the goodness of the Eucharist,” said Tony Cornejo.

As the massive Eucharistic procession rounded the corner and approached Holy Ghost Parish, its final destination, an air of beatitude permeated the usually hectic downtown. Jesus, the Eucharistic Lord, had triumphantly entered the city, rounded the centers of power and came to rest on a simple, humble altar on the steps of the beautiful church physically dwarfed by the skyscraper around it, but towering in devotion.

Upon arrival, the thousands of faithful received Jesus’ Eucharistic blessing through solemn benediction.

The Lord who had walked with the pilgrims then made his way to the tabernacle, where, in the words of St. Josemaria Escrivá, “he has been waiting for you for centuries.”

Sunday’s powerful demonstration of faith serves as a confirmation and a catalyst for the continued renewal of the local Church. The procession having ended, Denver Catholics stand on soil tilled for a revival of Eucharistic devotion.

“My sincere hope is that this National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which has passed through the heart of our capitol city, will renew our zeal and devotion to Jesus, present in the Eucharist,” Archbishop Aquila concluded.

“It is a profound joy to see so many of the faithful throughout the Archdiocese of Denver gathered in prayer and witness to Jesus. Through our joyfully countercultural witness to our abiding relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I pray that many come to know Jesus Christ, so that all might be rescued and have abundant life, for the glory of the Father.”

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This story was updated on June 9th, 2024. Originally published in the Denver Catholic.