Students focus on adoration as finals draw near
By Enedelia J. Obregón
Holding lighted candles and singing hymns, about 200 parishioners from the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas in Austin reverently processed through campus with the Blessed Sacrament. The procession began the 40 hours of perpetual adoration just before "dead days" began at UT.
The term "dead days" refers to the time between the last day of class and the first day of final exams each semester.
While the UT Catholic Center has held Perpetual Adoration during "dead days" for the last four years, this was the first Eucharistic procession on campus, said Matt Del Rio, a graduating senior from Austin and one of the procession organizers.
The group filed from the Catholic Center with Schoenstatt Father Jesús Ferras carrying the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and marched across campus to the UT Tower. There, they knelt and prayed before returning to the center’s adoration chapel.
Paulist Father Ed Nowak, the director of the Catholic Center, said the event was led and organized by the students.
"It shows they hunger for Jesus and a relationship with Jesus manifested in a visible way," Father Nowak said. "They hunger for tradition."
He said about 1,200 come to Mass every weekend and about 100 to daily Mass. While that’s a small percentage of the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Catholic students on campus, those who attend are very active in one or more of the 17 ministries as well as liturgy and worship. There are also 36 Bible study groups offered.
"They know how to strengthen their faith in this environment" despite the temptations of secular activities such as 6th Street, he said. "They do own their faith. They are that much stronger for it."
Jesús Cortés, a junior at UT from San Antonio, was one of those in the procession.
"It’s overwhelming to be part of something awesome," he said of the feeling he had during the procession.
The Eucharistic Procession, he said, "was radical."
"Pope Francis is changing the church by putting faith in action," Cortés said. "He was radical the way he lived out the love of Christ. We want to be radicalized that way."
Abigail Borah, a sophomore from Denton, was raised Presbyterian but was recently confirmed in the Catholic faith.
She learned about Catholicism while a student at the University of Dallas, where she was enrolled prior to attending UT. She attended Mass after not being able to find a Presbyterian faith community.
"That was my first encounter with Christ," she said. "I loved what I saw and heard at Mass."
During the Eucharistic procession at UT, she turned around to look at the people behind her and was overcome with emotion.
"You see the crucifix, which is the power of his love and then you see the Eucharist, which is the reminder of his love," she said. "When you see the Eucharist exposed, you see the nakedness of his love."
Eric Mok, a graduating senior from Dallas, said being active at the Catholic Center has changed his life. He was involved in Carbos for Christ, which provides a spaghetti meal after Mass on Wednesdays, and Lambda Omega Alpha Catholic Fraternity.
"This has been my home for five years," said Mok, who will be going to China with the Maryknoll Missionaries to teach English. "I have really grown in faith here."
The turnout for the procession delighted Del Rio, who with James Van Metre, came up with the idea during a gathering of the Schoenstatt University Men early in the spring semester.
"We always tried to bring Christ’s presence when we do Thursday adoration," said Del Rio, who is discerning for a vocation. "Our calling was to bring Christ to campus."
After talking to other groups to see if the idea was feasible, they received permission from Father Nowak and then Bishop Joe Vásquez. Next, the group received permission from campus police to ensure the safety of everyone involved. They also put out fliers and arranged for announcements at Mass."
St. Mary Cathedral allowed the group to borrow items such as the baldacchino –– or canopy –– and torches.
Del Rio said they wanted to do "something big" that would be a "huge witness to the faithful that it’s OK to be Catholic and it’s not weird."
The faithful responded.
"It didn’t hit me until we were walking and it was ‘Whoa! It’s happening right now! This is it!’" said Del Rio, who was one of the four men holding the canopy. "I had no idea how many people would show up until we got to the Tower and I turned around."
on the University Catholic Center, visit www.utcatholic.org or call (512) 476-7377.