On a warm summer night, after Mass celebrating the Feast of the Assumption, the congregation at St. Mary Parish in Holley all got up to take a walk. The 100-plus line of people processed from the Main Street church down Wright Street and the public square carrying a statue of Mother Mary and singing "Ave Maria."
The half-hour walk through the center of town served as a very public way of showing the faith of the Catholic community in the small farming town in Orleans County. They passed the local landmarks - the village clerk's office, the post office, the community library and Sam's Diner.
The procession has become a regular event for the parishioners of St. Mary's and St. Mark's in Kendall, their linked neighbor. The parishes have marched down the square for the past four years for the Feast of the Assumption and to carry the National Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, to spread the faith around town.
"St. Mary and St. Mark parish do this procession annually for two reasons," explained Carter Neumann, the coordinator of this year's event. "There is the fact that we are St. Mary Parish and this specific procession on the Feast of the Assumption is very important to our parish because of our Marian orientation. The second reason is our evangelization outreach community in the parish has decided to be a more visual part of the community. Instead of just having Mass everyday in the parish, we want to bring our faith out into the community, especially here in Holley. This procession is really meant to just spread the faith around town by giving the visual sign of who we are and what we stand for and sharing the heritage of it."
Father John Arogyasami, IMS, administrator for the parish, has only been a part of the community a few months, but he supported the procession whole-heartedly.
"I was very happy to do it," he said. "I am from India. We are very much devoted to Mother Mary. We have a huge basilica in the southern part of India where Mother Mary appeared and did three great miracles."
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the full name of the feast day celebrated Aug. 15, refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary being brought body and soul into heaven by God. Although written about and celebrated since the fifth century, it wasn't until 1950, when Pope Pius XII issued "Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Bountiful God)," which officially recognized the assumption as a true and necessary part of Church teaching and a Holy Day of Obligation.
Marian processions have become popular, taking place in big cities such as Paris and New York, as well as small towns like Holley. In Rome, past popes have led procession barefoot.
"Our goal for the procession in general is just to spread the faith around the diocese. That starts in the local community," said Neumann.
Neumann, a member of the Diocesan Youth Board, is just 15, but he wanted to take a bigger role in his home parish. "I have been taking on more leadership responsibilities in the parish for a few years now," he said. "After joining the Diocesan Youth Board, I decided I was ready to take on the first major event at the parish. Our pastoral assistant asked me if I would be willing to head it. I decided I could."
He's happy with the results - a church full of people receiving the Word of the Lord from a priest, the body and blood of Jesus through Communion, and the opportunity to share and praise Mother Mary.