No more Corpus Christi Processions: Church prefers Modern Pilgrimage Walk

Corpus Christi Procession Adieu: Basel Church Rehearses Modern Pilgrimage Walk

Under the motto "W.E.G" - "We Experience Faith", the Catholic Church of Basel-Stadt is planning a pilgrimage walk through Basel. "Pilgrimage is very much in vogue," says Matthias Schmitz, who is responsible for communications. He distances himself from the militant Corpus Christi processions of the 1930s.

Why do you organise a Corpus Christi procession in Basel?

Matthias Schmitz*: We deliberately don't call the event a Corpus Christi procession, but a pilgrimage walk. That's important because it's supposed to be a more open format.

In what way an open format?

Schmitz: On the one hand, the pilgrims' walk is intended to appeal to the 38 missions in Basel that speak other languages. These tend to be classically oriented, so we will also carry a monstrance. On the other hand, the procession should also appeal to people who are not at all familiar with the form of a classical Corpus Christi procession - for example, from the Reformed churches or those who are particularly distant from the church. After all, pilgrimage is very much in vogue across denominations and even irrespective of religion.

To what extent is pilgrimage a trend?

Schmitz: As a way of reflecting on God and the world and experiencing something. That's exactly what our W.E.G. is meant to and wants to invite you to do: To be on the way together, to experience something together, to celebrate together.

"Corpus Christi processions used to be a political means of cultural struggle."

Were there Corpus Christi processions in Basel in the past?

Schmitz: Yes, and that is a critical chapter in the history of Basel Catholics. The processions used to be used as a political cultural warfare tool. That was in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Catholic faithful in Basel were numerically more present again. At that time, the conservative Catholic priest Robert Mäder repeatedly held a city-wide Corpus Christi procession. He wanted to show with it: We are Catholic, we are back, we are to be reckoned with. It was a political statement. And that's exactly what we're not following up on.

When did that end?

Schmitz: With the end of Father Mäder's work, these city-wide Corpus Christi processions also ended. From then on, individual parishes still made their rounds around their church.

Last year there was also a Corpus Christi procession in Basel...

Schmitz: That was another longer Corpus Christi procession, organised by the Society of Saint Pius X. The Bishop Emeritus of Chur, Vitus Huonder, took part. It was unclear how this was to be classified. We in the Catholic Church felt we did not have to comment on it.

What was your reaction?

Schmitz: At that time, the Catholic Church of St. Mary also made an attempt to set up something of its own - together with the Italian-speaking mission. Between 300 and 400 people took part in that procession - and enjoyed it. Some of the participants thought afterwards: We want to continue to walk together, to sing and pray and to celebrate our faith. The sensual element in faith is actually a great treasure.

This is now the event of 11 June. Have you already found new forms?

Schmitz: Yes, we are in the process of designing them. This is a great experiment: Can old forms be filled anew in their existential meaning? It is about experiencing faith holistically. That is why the symbols of faith will be carried: a Bible, an icon, a cross and a monstrance will be part of the procession. Then there will be an approximately twelve-square-metre carpet of flowers with a special image on Basel's market square - with the possibility of giving flowers as a gift. This is a classic element in southern Germany. We will also say a special prayer for the city of Basel on the market square.

How do the other-language communities present themselves?

Schmitz: The missions that take part decide independently on their appearance. Some will come in their traditional costumes, the African group will perhaps drum while walking. That way the audience will see: We are also connecting cultures.

What else will be seen of the cultures?

Schmitz: In addition to the African group, the Italian, Polish and Portuguese communities will probably also join in. It has not yet been definitely decided who will show their own culture and in what form. That is also left up to them to a certain extent.

Do you have any commitments for the procession?

Schmitz: We have the necessary permits from the administration and the police. And we have the commitment of the missions. How they will perform will be a surprise for us - as will how many people will actually take part.

Will the different groups be announced - for example the Portuguese or the Polish mission?

Schmitz: No, they will not be marked and will not be announced individually - for example when they arrive at the market place. We don't want to communicate that offensively. We have also decided against national flags.

But the groups will always walk together - helpers will make sure of that. And perhaps the participants will be recognisable to outsiders because of their costume or language.

The organising committee is made up exclusively of Roman Catholics.

Schmitz: Yes, the event is also organised by the Roman Catholic Church of Basel-Stadt. But the Reformed sister church of Basel-City is informed and cordially invited.

So the event is not Christian across denominations...?

Schmitz: We thought: In the first year we'll do the work and invite the others. Maybe next year Reformed people will also participate. To realise this cooperation already now would have been too complex for us. Especially since we want to bring the language communities together first.

With a procession, you mark your presence. Even if you don't want to follow the militant tradition. Is that not the intention - in the City of Basel, which is known for its high rate of non-denominational people?

Schmitz: We expect about 800 participants and are preparing about that many packed lunches. That would be a large group. It is intended that this will have a certain presence. It is therefore important that the open, inviting attitude comes across well. In the sense: we are still here, we are not antiquated, we are open. We have the feeling that by walking together and being on the way, something can emerge - even beyond a church affiliation.

So you invite everyone who is interested?

Schmitz: Yes, absolutely. By the way, we are also celebrating five years of the Basel-Stadt pastoral region with the procession. At the end of the procession, everyone is cordially invited to a celebration and aperitif in the Kastanienhof near the Marienkirche.


Cathcon: How very modernist! Corpus Christi without Corpus Christi. The Feast becomes all about them and they hate the very presence of Christ among us.  

Instead of the 7 Sacraments, the Church became a Sacrament at the time of the Council.  No longer a perfect society but the people of God.  The people are now the sacrament, Christ is excluded.


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