It rained on the Féte-Dieu du Teche’s parade early on Tuesday, but that didn’t stop hundreds of area Roman Catholics from coming out to watch the Eucharistic Procession carrying Christ on a boat down the Bayou Teche.
“That’s the blood, the body and the soul of Jesus,” said Tonia Lancon, of St. Martinville, pointing to one of several boats idling in the bayou after the rains had cleared, in front of St. Martinville’s Bridge Street Bridge. “The true presence of Christ is right there.”
Road workers were having a difficult time drawing the bridge clear for the procession to pass, just before its final landing near the museum of the Acadian Memorial at Evangeline Oak Park.
“Father Champagne wanted to cause a commotion, and he did!” said Lancon, gesturing toward the road workers.
The Rev. Michael Champagne of the Community of Christ Crucified led the procession.
Lancon remembers the inaugural féte, held in 2015, fondly.
“It was a Saturday, a beautiful day,” she said. “A lot of people came out.”
She’s made it all three years. This year, she arrived at 8 a.m. for the Holy Mass at St. Leo’s Church in Leonville and followed the entire procession by car as they made stops for Mass at churches in Arnaudville, Cecilia, Breaux Bridge, Parks and, finally, St. Martinville.
“We got rain in Cecilia and in Breaux Bridge. A lot of rain. But that didn’t stop Father Champagne,” Lancon said, “and neither will this bridge.”
It did not.
Within moments, road workers had cleared the way, and the faithful mariners sailed on to their last landing. They disembarked and, picking up litoral observers, marched and sang to Notre Dame de Perpetual Secours for the Benediction. They sang and marched again to St. Martin de Tours as passers-by knelt and crossed themselves, then joined in.
“Any time Jesus is walking down the street, don’t you want to jump in?” Christie Fletcher of Lafayette said. “Here you have his blood, his body and his soul.”
Plus, said Fletcher, four of her own children were serving in the procession.
The event honors the arrival of the French-speaking Catholics, the Acadians, who came to the area 252 years ago after being exiled by the British from present-day Nova Scotia. They built homes and churches along the bayou and established the communities, the culture and the faith that would define the Cajuns.
At St. Martin de Tours, the marchers’ singing met with clanging church bells. The Iberia Veterans Honor Guard stood outside the church while another Benediction was given, and as the procession left the church the Guard fired several shots of honor into the air. The parade continued to the Community of Jesus Crucified for Vespers and for one last Benediction.