Eucharistic procession returns to downtown Iowa City

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Lindsay Steele
Father David Paintsil, left, parochial administrator at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, and Iowa City-area Catholics stop to pray at the Iowa City Catholic Worker house in Iowa City during a eucharistic procession from St. Wenceslaus Parish to St. Mary Parish June 2.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Each year on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Catholics in Father David Paintsil’s native Ghana process through town to honor the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. “It’s a beautiful celebration,” he said.

On June 2, Father Paintsil led 200 Iowa City-area Catholics on a 1.4-mile eucharistic procession from St. Wenceslaus Parish to St. Mary Parish, where he serves as parochial administrator. “This has been a wonderful experience for me. It’s like I’m in Ghana today.”

It was the first large-scale eucharistic procession through downtown Iowa City in more than 25 years, said Diocesan Administrator Ken Kuntz, who led the last procession around 1998 while serving as pastor of St. Mary Parish. “It’s a beautiful acknowledgment of people’s love for the Eucharist and the importance of devotional prayer,” he said. Smaller processions have taken place around St. Wenceslaus since then.

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Father Paintsil considered bringing the longer walk back to Iowa City after participating in a four-mile procession from Hampton, Illinois to Rapids City, Illinois last year. He discussed the possibility with parish staff and with Father John Lamansky, pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish. They were excited about the possibility, Father Paintsil recalled. Organizers of the Illinois walk helped the Iowa City group with planning via Zoom meetings.

Participants gathered at St. Wenceslaus Parish around noon and proceeded south. Knights of Columbus provided honor guard services, held the canopy and carried a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Father Paintsil said he purchased the statue in Portugal, the country in which Our Lady of Fatima is believed to have appeared to three children in 1917. The procession stopped briefly in front of the Iowa City Catholic Worker house for prayer and adoration before heading west toward downtown.

Throughout the walk, participants sang praise songs. Toward the front, Anglo and Vietnamese Catholics sang worship songs in English. Behind them, Congolese and Angolan Catholics sang “Bakembisa Tango Inso Yezu Sacramento,” a Ganda/Luganda praise song. A small but enthusiastic group of Nigerian Catholics sang praise songs in the Igboo language near the back of the procession. Passersby took notice of the procession. Some expressed indifference or curiosity while others made the sign of the cross as the group passed by.

Debra Hernstrom, a St. Wenceslaus parishioner, participates regularly in eucharistic processions around her parish. This year’s longer route was challenging at times but her parish friend Phil Kean and her seeing-eye dog, Al, a Golden Retriever, were with her every step of the way. After the walk, the participants gathered in St. Mary Parish hall for refreshments and a light meal, courtesy of local Catholic Daughters of the Americas.

Many participants, including St. Wenceslaus parishioner Van Emery, hope the downtown procession becomes an annual event. “This is a very positive event; this is a celebration. I hope we do it again.”

Father Paintsil told The Catholic Messenger that plans for future processions are in the works. “God is so good; everything went well.” Although Father Paintsil is leaving the parish in July for another diocesan assignment, his successor, Father Andrew Rauenbuehler, has already expressed his support. The Our Lady of Fatima statue will remain at St. Mary Parish for future procession participants to honor. 

Matthew Teets, a recent high school graduate, served as cantor for the procession. “I really enjoyed being able to show our faith publicly. That’s not something we get to do often.” He also appreciated the multicultural nature of the procession. “Times like these are a great opportunity to bring (everyone) together.”

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