I was privileged to interview Taryn Watkins, founder and organizer of the Emmaus Procession – a Eucharistic procession which extends several miles from Illinois to Iowa. Each year the procession takes place on the first Saturday in October. Last month marked the second annual pilgrimage and the procession was held on October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Taryn Watkins is a Consecrated Virgin for the Diocese of Peoria, an ancient spousal vocation to Jesus Christ as lived by the Saints Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Agatha and others. She has walked about 2000 miles while on pilgrimage, but is still intent on the real pilgrimage toward the heavenly Jerusalem. While on her first pilgrimage in college and going to Adoration, she first understood the reality and Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Since then it has been one adventure after another. She is currently an artist and a teacher of art at St. Philomena and Chesterton Academy in Peoria. Taryn’s pilgrimage site may be viewed at https://www.wayfarerpilgrim.com/
How did the idea of the Emmaus Procession originate?
It was just a combination, a building up of many ideas, the power of Eucharistic processions in general, and reading the road to Emmaus many years before the procession. Seven miles, Scripture is so specific in giving that distance for us. We are walking literally with Jesus and He’s hidden. To read Scripture and, also the desire that people receive Jesus in the Eucharist, just as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus. It was magnified after Covid. Many people don’t receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The Lord has given me a great madness in the love for Jesus in Eucharist.
Growing up, I knew intellectually that the Eucharist is Jesus but it wasn’t until I started going to Adoration in college, spending time and seeing people pray, seeing their faces and that a conversation was happening. That really changed it from an intellectual truth to be known to God Who I want to give my entire life to.
Describe the procession.
The procession was six miles last year. We started walking around 9:00 a.m. and ended around 1 p.m. This year it was about 3.5 miles and we walked from 9:00 a.m. to 11:-00 a.m. We have everyone park at the end and bus everyone to the beginning. We went from Iowa to Illinois last time, and this time Illinois to Iowa across the Mississippi River. This year we went over the I-74 River Bridge which is itself a mile long. It is an impressive bridge. Last year not everyone walked the whole way but we had about 900 to 1000 come. This year we had 500 people come but they walked the whole way.
The whole way we were reading Scripture and praying. In the Quad Cities (Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois) we have a lot of cultures that are being represented. People came from other cities too. We have a huge Spanish population. We highlight their particular Eucharistic devotion. Last year we had horses and sombreros, and little girls in their First Communion dresses. There were some priests and some parishioners singing in Burmese. Irish were also represented – both years we’ve had the bagpipes and drums. We are praying the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, but mostly it is full of music and Scripture. We do a lot in English and Spanish.
Who participated in the procession?
It’s a whole range, we have newborns that are being carried by their parents, elderly who need help, and some who can’t walk pray in the Churches, others walk part way or drive behind us. We have different points along the way. Last year both Bishops came, Bishop Thomas Robert Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa and Bishop Louis Tylka or Peoria, Illinois. A lot of priests from both sides of river came.
What are some of the fruits of the Emmaus Procession?
An increase in Mass attendance at some of the parishes. Other people have started their conversions, attending Bible studies and going to Mass. There were deeper conversions and deeper expressions, ownership of their own faith. Like someone said “it was the proudest day of my life of being a Catholic.”
Why are public manifestations of faith in the Holy Eucharist like in the Emmaus Procession important?
It’s a lot of work but at the same time we’re walking with Jesus and letting Him do the work. It’s an act of faith. Humanly it doesn’t make any sense. From the outside it just looks like Catholics are walking with some bread. But, in faith, we know we’re walking with Jesus and He is blessing the world, especially the Quad Cities. Fr. Patrick Wille of Peoria, a newly ordained priest, stopped at the middle of the bridge and blessed the cities from there. It’s so neat – the universality of it – Jesus is the same everywhere but the particular love Jesus has for these particular cities, this place. Jesus’ love is expressed in such a real, concrete way and we have to rely on Him in real concrete ways. Sometimes it can get discouraging listening to Catholics who really don’t believe at all. Humanly I want to convince them, but at the same time it’s Jesus who is going to do the actual conversion. Giving Jesus the opportunity by an act of faith to enter into people’s lives.
It’s really important the way that Jesus wants to love particular places. Two different dioceses across the rivers that have never really done anything together but there was solidarity among Catholics, so that the bridges that were built. It was really important for the Quad Cities to be together in the walk with the Lord, to be together in their love for Jesus.
Were you inspired to do the Emmaus Processions because of the Eucharistic Revival?
It’s something I thought about prior to the Eucharistic Revival but I think the revival was maybe “the Lord is asking for this now at this moment.” I messaged all the priests and said: “Is anyone interested?” Fr. Joe Baker was the first who said, “Yes, let’s do this. You need to plan everything but I will help you.” That is how God made it concrete.
Would you recommend that others try to organize Eucharistic processions in their areas?
Yes, it’s awesome. I don’t think it has to be as big. I thought maybe 100 people would come. Let’s ask the Bishops. Be bold, if you want something big. See what the Lord will make possible. It is easier if you’re not dealing with several cities. Find someone at the police stations who knows the logistics. I’m so glad that I have a team that is much better at practical aspects than I am. Let the Lord take the lead. If the Lord wants it, He’s going to make it fruitful. It might look different then what we did. I think the Lord is asking us to be bold and make great acts of faith in Him.
The Lord gives us so many human ideas and skills and virtues and all these great things. The Lord is asking us to use those but at the same time I think we just need a reliance on him. It doesn’t matter if we have the best programs to bring people to Jesus in the Eucharist, if we don’t rely on Him it’s not going to be fruitful.
Great cultures have great processions and pilgrimages. If we want America to be a great culture, we can build culture through that, unity through that, all those things we desire so deeply at this point in time in America.
There is also a video about the Emmaus Procession.
All photos are courtesy of Robin Heiar.