Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Jesus in the Streets of San Antonio

By John O'Brien, S. J.

Two miles west of San Antonio's downtown is Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. Serving a largely Latino population, the parish is a haven in the sun-baked streets of this lower-income neighborhood. Its air-conditioned church sanctuary and parish office are open all day, and local people drop in to pray or have their holy objects blessed by the resident pastors.

In adjacent buildings, an adoration chapel is open until midnight and teams of women spend hours making rosaries in a pleasant room – well-stocked with coffee and tasty delights – which are sent all over the country. Recently, a Hearts on Fire retreat took place with more than eighty young adults attending. Not long ago, this Jesuit parish had become somewhat derelict, but today it is evident that its devotional life is alive and well.

One of the more dramatic outreaches by the Jesuits here is the Sunday afternoon procession into the local neighborhood with the Blessed Sacrament. Ladies knock on doors in the project houses announcing “Jesus está presente!” – Jesus is present – while a priest plays his trumpet, and another holds the monstrance aloft, with its gilded rays glittering in the sun. Some houses close their curtains, while others open the doors and send their children out to kneel and pray. At times, the procession stops, and a makeshift altar is erected for a short time of worship.

While we were always only a few blocks from the church, most of the residents of this barrio are non-practicing Hispanic Catholics, who have not received catechetical formation for a generation or two. The new and much beloved archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo Garcia-Siller, lamented this failure on the part of the Church when we met him at a local community center. The work of the Jesuits at this parish, then, is a particularly important front line work of the new evangelization. There on the streets, during the procession, the ladies teach the children the basics: the sign of the cross, a prayer or two, and invite them to come to the parish for Mass, offering to pick up the housebound and elderly.

The Eucharist is a particularly effective means of bringing hearts and minds to Jesus. There are many scriptural associations when experiencing the neighbourhood procession: “Let the little children come to me”, “Peter… feed my sheep”, “Where you are, there I will also be.”, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “I will gaze on you…” It is a reminder of the importance of our stewardship of this great sacrament, and the power of the Eucharistic Christ to penetrate the layers of incrustation that can grow around human hearts. 

I wonder how effective this would be in the more affluent parts of North America. Would anyone respond or would we be laughed at for the quaintness of our Catholic beliefs? In the end I believe only a radical – deeply faith-rooted – response to the indifference of our age to the reality of the living Christ will be successful. As tears stream down many faces in the streets of San Antonio, we realize it is not us who makes this possible, but God. Yes, there are many corners of the world where Jesus wants to walk again.


  1. What a beautiful public witness! Very inspiring. I hope we do see this display of belief in affluent areas as well. I know that recently 4 bishops in Montreal lead a youth conference in Eucharistic procession down Rue St. Catherine. A sign of things to come?

  2. Perhaps it is. I find the Lord does so much of the heavy "heart and soul work" when we involve him in our ministries directly and eucharistically.