La Salle parishes: ‘I think we’re setting the bar’ for Corpus Christi celebration

La Salle resumes ever-growing holy day procession

It took a few calls for Esmeralda Cruz to line up a lone horse and rider to lead La Salle’s annual Corpus Christi procession in 2019. Not this year. When word spread the procession was on, the riders called her.

Sunday, 11 men and women on horseback led the way for a canopy and gold monstrance bearing the Holy Eucharist from St. Hyacinth Church to Queen of the Holy Rosary Shrine. Behind them were families bedecked in custom T-shirts honoring the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi in Latin).

Cruz, an active member of the La Salle Catholic Parishes, said getting the equestrians on board for the 2022 procession was a breeze.

“It seems as if every year two or three riders reach out and say they’d like to participate,” Cruz said.

Eucharistic processions are common across the globe — Corpus Christi has been a fixture of the church calendar for centuries — but La Salle’s is increasingly getting nods for its size, pageantry and cross-cultural participation.

“It’s a Mexican tradition,” said Lucio Ortega, of Spring Valley, one of the volunteer riders. “A long time ago they’d ride horses and do the parade. They do it all over the world.”

The Rev. Michael Pica, transferred to La Salle shortly after last year’s procession, recalled other churches in the Diocese of Peoria where worshippers simply processed inside sanctuaries or onto church grounds. To his knowledge, no other Peoria Dioceses parish conducts such an elaborate procession.

“I think we’re setting the bar,” Pica said. “I think it’s great for the community but it brings us all together witnessing the Gospel and witnessing the Real Presence of Jesus.”

“Resetting” the bar might be more apt. Though processions are not new, La Salle’s outdoor procession was revived in 2016 after decades of scaled-back observances held indoors or on church grounds.

The recent decision to go church to church brought back memories for Janice Washkowiak, of La Salle, who recalled feast days in the 1950s and 60s where the faithful erected altars outside their homes. At least once, she recalled, the procession wound to the stadium at La Salle-Peru High School for communal services.

“I like all the old things they’re starting to bring back,” Washkowiak said.