Monday, 27 June 2011

The Making of a Eucharistic Flash Mob

Br. Loarne, one of the friars I live with, is an ideas-machine. He’s forever coming up with new concepts and proposals, leaving me struggling to keep abreast of where he is. So it was quite unusual for me to blow him away with a new idea of my own. He’d been talking with an evangelist from our parish at Pantasaph in North Wales, and told me that they were hoping to do some sort of Catholic flash mob in their area. I suggested ‘flash-mob Eucharistic adoration’, and he staggered backwards across the room. Literally.

The idea had been long in germinating. Having been introduced to the phenomenon of flash mobs last year, the creative faculty somewhere in the back recesses of my mind started working away on the evangelistic possibilities. I looked at various Christian flash mobs, but wasn’t much inspired – except by the Alleluia Chorus one, which required more skill than I thought we had at our disposal. Besides, I wanted something more specifically Catholic. So it was at a Youth 2000 retreat, where they have continuous exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, that the idea of a Eucharistic flash mob first came to me. I use the phrase ‘came to me’ advisedly – I think it was a moment of inspiration, which do tend to happen in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

At the time, I think I envisioned the flash mob as a possible Youth 2000 initiative. But I let the concept stew away in the aforementioned recesses of my mind, until Br. Loarne prompted it to come out of hiding. We quickly started praying and collaborating on the idea of doing it on our own patch in Preston. Both of us were partly motivated by a dissatisfaction with Corpus Christi processions and other ‘walks of witness’, which largely fail to make any connection with non-believers. I’d also often felt, on these Corpus Christi processions, a disappointment that no one among the passers-by would fall to their knees. “There must be some Catholics among them, after all”, I thought. So the prospect of modelling the proper response was appealing.



Our guardian, Br. John, gave us permission to go ahead. I then approached the parish priest of our intended location (a street called, appropriately enough, ‘Friargate’), who also gave permission. We've recently found out that we should have asked the bishop as well; but we didn't know that at the time, so we got on with the task of organising the event. Unlike many of the flash mobs you see on the internet, ours required no musical or dancing skill; all that was required of most participants was the ability to kneel on a hard surface. But we still had to gather together our ‘mob’ – I reckoned we needed at least 30 participants to make the necessary impact. Yes, I have to break it you – those of you who thought that the people kneeling were unprepared passers-by – most of them were part of the flash mob. But not all. At least four adorers were truly spontaneous. The fact that so many people have thought it spontaneous, however, is a sign of success – flash mobs are supposed to have the appearance of spontaneity.

Recruiting people for a novel event like this was difficult, not least because we wanted to keep the details from public circulation, and we were hampered by the fact that most Catholics hadn’t even heard of ‘flash mobs’. So the initial publicity was too mysterious, and only some personal appeals to some key groups got the necessary number together. Thanks are due in particular to the university students, the Irish travellers, and the parish of St. Wilfrid’s for responding with courage. People have written a lot about the bravery of us friars; but we’re used to standing out in public, unlike the brave souls who knelt down in the middle of the street.

Flash-mobbers getting
ready for action
As I wrote above, we wanted an event that made some connection with passers-by, so Br. Loarne came up with the idea of a ‘litany’ about Jesus with a refrain of “Come and kneel before Him now.” He got the litany from a Christian video on YouTube, but adapted it somewhat. He also thought up the plan for getting the sound system in position: having it brought along by a student using it to play reggae music, who could then switch tracks when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed.

The evangelistic element was even more significantly advanced by the presence of ‘undercover agents’ in the crowd, handing out cards designed by Br. Loarne (see picture), and taking opportunities to explain the proceedings to bemused onlookers. Ever tried to explain transubstantiation to a complete stranger? Top marks to our team of evangelists. It was also important that we had a follow-up to invite people to. Happily, we already had a series of ‘seeker services’ up and running.


Now to the central element of the whole event: Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We were well aware that Eucharistic processions, the nearest precedent to what we planned, are supposed to involve cope, humeral veil, candles, and incense. But such rules are for the purpose of showing reverence to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and we reckoned that such reverence would be adequately shown by the dramatic sight of people kneeling down before Him in a busy street. Using the full paraphernalia normally (and rightly) associated with Exposition would have two related disadvantages. Firstly, it would undermine the spontaneous appearance of  flash mobs, which is how they connect with people. People do not normally walk around with candles and thuribles hidden under their jackets. Secondly, such things would serve to distance the Sacrament from passers-by, adding layers of to-them-meaningless ritual.

We had to have a decent monstrance, of course, but one light-weight and small enough. After trying a couple of churches and convents, I found the ideal monstrance in the chapel of Corpus Christi College (fittingly). I thank the chaplain for the loan of it.

One worry during our preparations was over whether we should inform the police. But we reasoned that if we didn’t block any traffic, there was little cause for the authorities to be concerned. So it was important to choose a pedestrianised venue. The spot on Friargate outside the St. George’s Shopping Centre seemed ideal; we’d already done some more low-key evangelisation there on occasions. But we only settled on it after prayer and a reconnaissance mission (in which we visited the site on the Thursday before, to check on traffic conditions and other practicalities). As it happened, a policeman did come by during the flash mob, and strolled by unconcerned. It might have been different if we’d been spectacularly successful and hundreds of people were kneeling in worship, blocking the street up. But that would have been a nice problem to have.

A whole extra dimension was added by filming the event, which we thought very important, given that it seemed to be the first of its kind. Providentially, Sean Zaniboni, a student of sound production, had recently joined our chaplaincy community, and he enthusiastically took up the idea and used his contacts in the ‘Media Factory’ to get a team and equipment together. Gerardo Gonzalez also came in to help out with filming. The manager of the Black Horse Hotel kindly let us use an upstairs room to do filming from, and another cameraman took up position in a cafĂ©, while two others were free-roaming. One of the students kneeling in adoration had the sound-recording equipment concealed on her person. We did have to re-record Br. Loarne’s voice after the event, however, as it didn’t come across very clearly. And then Sean slaved for hours over the footage to put together the video in time for Corpus Christi. We should also mention Adam T., who took the photographs for us.

Br. Loarne briefing the participants
The choreography of our flash mob was simple compared to many others. At the preparatory meeting and briefing we split people into 5 groups, with instructions to arrive on the scene at different times (watches/phones had to be synchronised). The first group had to be the bravest, being the first to kneel down. I was to arrive at exactly1.15pm, and the first ‘kneelers’ 30 seconds after, once I’d elevated the monstrance. Others were to come on the scene at 1.16pm, and then at 1-minute intervals after that, so that the ‘congregation’ would slowly grow. The flash-mobbers were asked to start clapping and cheering at a certain point towards the end of Br. Loarne’s litany. Once again, the idea was to have something that seemed spontaneous, and which others could join in.

The stage having been set, it was fairly easy to walk up Friargate, as I often do, and stop and speak to one of the touts while I put on my stole. He was someone I’d met before, so he wasn’t surprised to see me. He was surprised, however, when I took out the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and held it up. “What’s that?!” he asked. “That,” I replied, “believe it or not, is Jesus.”



30 comments:

  1. I wish you guys had read all of John 6. How many of the people kneeling were "outsiders"? I posted your video on Facebook saying that perhaps we were watching the parable of the Sower and the Seed played out. May God bless you for doing this and don't be so sure that the Corpus Christi processions don't have their own impact!

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  2. Thank you Brother. Deeply moving video. Some Anglican reflections here:

    http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/?e=28

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  3. Brother it was marvelous, reverential and powerful. Just as when he walked the streets 2000 years ago some adored Him and some ignored Him. Some wondered who or what He was and some acknowledged him as Lord!

    I have seen some comments by devout folk on various blogs slightly concerned that due reverence was not shown by some passers by or that the paraphernalia of exposition should have been present. However this never stopped Our Lord from walking the streets before, even lowering himself to the most ignoble death imaginable. He dwelt amongst us and still does now, blessed be His name forever!

    Keep up the good work of proclaiming the Good News.

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  4. Beautiful! Brother, can you post the Litany? God bless, Sr. Alicia

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  5. Wonderful idea! I wish I would have walked by...that would have been the most amazing thing ever!

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  6. That was beautiful. I was choked up by the end.

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  7. A powerful witness to a weak world.

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  8. Your effort should be commended, Brother Paul. I know this was not the streets of NYC, but what did you plan if someone accidentally or purposely knocked you down or otherwise sought to bring harm to Jesus? That young man with the backpack walked very close. It made me gasp.

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  9. Linda, I didn't have any particular plans as to any violent reactions like that. Mockery and misunderstanding is common enough in our part of the world, but actually violent anti-Catholicism is very rare, thank God. But there were plenty of Catholics there, who could have intervened if there was trouble.

    As for the man with the backpack, if you watch the video carefully, you can catch glimpses of him hanging around on the edge of the circle afterwards, chewing his nails and looking thoughtful. I think being so close to Jesus had touched him, although he eventually went off. Please pray for him.

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  10. Theresa, I didn't mean to suggest that Corpus Christi processions don't have a place anymore. They can indeed have an impact, but I wanted to point out that there are some parts they don't reach, lest people think that we could have just done a traditional procession instead of our 'flash mob'.

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  11. Again @Linda:
    I should have mentioned that our greatest safety was in secrecy. Only the members of the flash mob (plus the parish priest) knew the location, and most of them were only told shortly beforehand. That was important in protecting us from 'counter-demonstrations'.

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  12. Well done! What a great idea. Only this week at the ecumenical prayer group I help run at work, one of my (non-Catholic) friends was explaining why she takes every opportunity to "witness" to her faith. As she says - if people aren't aware of the good news, how can they respond to it?

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  13. I was on my knees and in tears the very first time I watched the video. Thank-you Brothers, thank-you everyone that participated.

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  14. Very brave of you to do this in secular Britain.

    If you have time, visit my Blog.

    God bless.

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  15. Thank you for doing this - it must be a good thing to bring Christ to our streets. I agree you could not really have had all the usual trappings of Adoration/Exposition, but I do wish you had at least brought the Blessed Sacrament in a Pyx round your neck and knelt to place it in the monstrance. I didn't like the 'rabbit out of a hat' stuff. Thank you again - I would have liked to be there.

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  16. Thank you for arranging this beautiful witness to Christ. I often play the video "God in the Streets of New York" at youth retreats an the kids usually remark that they would never make such a public demonstration of faith anywhere people they know would see them. I hope this makes Catholics more willing to stand up publicly for their faith.

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  17. That is absolutely marvellous! I must post that on our Assistant Priest's Facebook, perhaps he'd be up for it!

    As far as Corpus Christi Processions are concerned, i think there's a lot of good in those too, and if they actually HAPPENED it would be a start!

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  18. God has already blessed you and many through you - may this Anglican vicar add his thanks and prayers. It was all so Christ centred - he was lifted up.
    Please post the litany!

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  19. Father,

    I deeply commend your intentions, but I am quite certain you could have made it work as well if not better processing from a church with suplice and cope and humeral veil accompanied by candles and canopy.
    The purpose of "such rules" is not just to show the appropriate reverence to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, they are also to teach us what kind of reverence is required, and they protect the faithful and unbelievers from the very, very real danger of scandal.
    Finally, it is not up to you or I to decide whether "such rules" can be dispensed with or not. "Such rules" are exactly that - rules. They were made, not by a mere human authority, but by the Church - by the Pope and bishops who receive their authority from Jesus Himself through the apostles. Essentially, the same Jesus you held in the square is the One Who holds you to rules about copes and the like. If you qenuinely believe that an exception should be made here, then I beg you in the most holy name of Jesus, seek and obtain the proper dispensations from the authorities Jesus established. Please, brother. You and I are the servants of these Mysteries, not Their masters.

    Thank you and God bless you, your community and your work.

    p.s. I don't mean to say that I think you were consciously breaking Jesus' commands; indeed, it sounds like you really did your best to act in good conscience. Let us all strive to improve and pray for one another!

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  20. Thank you, Dan, for your courteous and fraternal concern.

    If we ever do such an event again, it will be with the bishop's permission and according to his stipulations.

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  21. Father, thank you so much for lifting up Jesus in the public square as you did, and for the beautiful litany praising His Glory and Presence in the Scriptures. And as this video is on youtube and all over the blogosphere, only Our Lord knows how many will see and be touched by your most loving and courageous act.

    Somehow, I can't believe that Jesus was in any way offended by the great witness of belief in His Real Presence which you and those who knelt before Him demonstrated -- even though it was without the usual magnificence.

    How desperately the world needs to know that He is really and truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist.

    How grateful He must be to you and your brothers who brought Him to those who would never come on their own. God bless you!

    Patricia
    theholyfaceofjesus.wordpress.com

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  22. Este video me ha movido increiblemente, creo que San Francisco debe estar muy contento, que hermoso es ver como Jesus se pasea por las calles, Dios los bendiga.

    This Video has moved me deeply, I think Saint Francis is very happy, its beautifull, see Jesus in the streets, God Blees.

    Ronald Romero
    www.ronaldromero.com

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  23. Amen! Amen! Amen! Praise You Jesus!

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  24. I praise God for you Brother Paul, This is beautiful and it gave me goose bumps as I watched and I felt the presence of God all around me as I sat at my office desk. The litany was a blessing to listen to. Anne

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  25. Father, THANK YOU! Thank you! Tears also ran down my cheeks watching this truly awesome visitation of Christ to ALL his people, whether we acknowledge him or not HE acknowledges us. Only he knows who he touched this day or why this day but he was there in full presence. I know a priest who might just repeat this, after getting "permission" from the bishop of course. God has blessed you. Please post the litany!

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  26. Amanda, you'll find the litany on the next post on this blog (i.e. the first post in July).

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  27. I just stumbled on your video... absolutely amazing, wonderful idea! Also, personally very interesting to me, as just the other day I had this idea, that would if you could have an adoration chapel that was devoted for a team of evangelists roaming the city asking people if they wanted to meet Jesus who would then have this specific adoration chapel to bring people back to. So that those in the chapel adoring would expect many people to come in who might not yet know what to do or what it was all about... and that there could be volunteers and a resource library there to help answer people's questions. Anyhow, your flash mob addresses the sentiment I was considering and I thank you for it! Our world needs to see Jesus so badly! God bless!

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  28. Brother paul, im from peru i would love to share this in my church and my comunity is it possible that you give me the letany? i quite understant but i need the whole of it so i can translate to my friends , please, ill be waiting, and thanks! god bless

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  29. Please Please Please come to Manchester City Centre and do this.

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