Did You See Jesus on the Streets of New York?
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and tourists witnessed a remarkable scene on a recent Tuesday afternoon
Jesus was just in the middle of Manhattan.
On Oct. 10, during Tuesday rush hour, I joined more than 5,000 Catholics to literally follow Our Lord down Broadway and the streets near Times Square. We held a Eucharistic procession and our goal was simple. We wanted the people of New York to see faithful devotion in action, and more importantly, to see the Author of our faith.
At the head of the procession was Christ himself in the Eucharist — body, blood, soul and divinity. The monstrance containing our Eucharistic Lord was held aloft by Father Mike Schmitz in a beautiful golden vessel. More than 100 priests and nuns followed him closely, while an altar server swinging a thurible filled the air with the soothing aroma of incense. The throng of the faithful brought up the rear, singing and praying as we walked behind Christ.
Catholics have held these Eucharistic processions since ancient times. They’re intended to be a public witness to the faith, a sign to society that Catholics believe in something, and Someone, higher. Processions have been especially popular in times of religious bigotry. They prove to the world that Christ and his Church aren’t going anywhere. They invite non-Catholics to watch what’s going on — and perhaps wonder why so many people would do something so strange. They let onlookers encounter the Prince of Peace.
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and tourists had that opportunity on that Tuesday afternoon. We started in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the heart of the city, with a Mass that was filled to overflowing. At 5:30 p.m., the cathedral’s massive bronze doors were swung open, a rare event reserved for the most important occasions. The priests and parishioners filed out, slowly and deliberately. Hundreds more people streamed out of the church with every minute.
The busiest city on earth seemed to stand still. Drivers pulled over, rolling down their windows to get a better look. Pedestrians pulled out their smartphones, taking pictures and videos. Streets and sidewalks that were bustling moments before didn’t move until the procession passed. When one block started moving again, the next one stopped, one after another. Every eye in the area was fixed on Christ and his followers.
That was the point — not to turn heads toward us, but to turn hearts toward the Lord. I lost track of how many times I saw a pedestrian pull aside someone in the procession, asking them what was happening. I also lost track of how many people joined us as we went.
I saw a deliveryman get off his bicycle and start walking alongside. I saw an entire family cross themselves and join the crowd. I even saw a guy get out of a parked car, ignoring wherever he had to be, in order to be with us. More than an hour later, we returned to St. Patrick’s. It was even more full than when we started.
Did our walk of faith have any effect? It certainly upset some people, since we disrupted traffic and made plenty of commutes a lot longer than usual.
One commuter yelled to an NYPD officer, “How long is this going to take?” The officer yelled back, “It’s Jesus — we’ll wait all day if necessary.” Many others surely shook their heads at what they think is outdated religious foolishness. And some perhaps scoffed at the Catholic Church, given all the sins of her members over the years. Thankfully, no one was violent or hateful. Instead of aggression and anger, all we saw was curiosity and the peace that only Christ can give.
No matter their reactions, no one will ever forget what they saw. The Lord works in mysterious ways. He may now be working in many more hearts. That’s what happens when you encounter Christ, especially in places you don’t expect him to be. Nobody thought they’d meet the Savior of the world during Tuesday rush hour in the middle of Manhattan. But that’s exactly where Jesus wanted to be.
Tim Busch is the founder of the Napa Institute, a Catholic organization that sponsored the New York City Eucharistic Procession.