@SyracuseHistory takes on #CNYChurchCrawl
By David Haas | Special to the Catholic Sun
Editor’s note: Visitation is a long-standing Holy Thursday tradition. There are a few explanations of the tradition’s origins, but the devotion remains the same: the faithful visit Altars of Repose in churches to venerate the Blessed Sacrament, spending the evening with the Lord.
Syracuse history buff David Haas, the force behind the popular Instagram account @SyracuseHistory, participated in the visitation tradition for the first time this year. He shared his reflection on the experience with the Catholic Sun.
I have been a practicing Catholic for the last 31 years but I’d never participated in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday until last week.
Born and raised in Syracuse, I’m the individual behind the popular Instagram account @SyracuseHistory and a communicant of Blessed Sacrament Church. My Instagram account focuses on what local author Sean Kirst describes as “throwing light on what’s too often overlooked in Syracuse.”
Instagram is a photo-sharing platform that allows smartphone users to quickly capture a video or picture from their mobile devices and upload it to a personal account for others to view. My followers, for instance, might see a photograph of a century-old postcard alongside the original home it was mailed to years ago. Or followers might catch a glimpse of an old street sign embedded in a house they might otherwise simply drive by without noticing.
Almost every post provides a story of what once was, and may be again — whether a house, building, or inspirational tale of a former resident. The goal of @SyracuseHistory is not for readers to remember every fact, but to create wonder and add value to the community around us. Share enough wonder and we might change the city.
This past Thursday, the opportunity to both share wonder and trigger a change came in many forms — 16 to be exact.
I teamed up with my friend and communicant of Most Holy Rosary Church, Nicole Massenzio, to participate with her in a “church crawl” to visit the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in parishes across the city. This practice originated in Rome and mirrors the faithful presence the disciples offered Jesus when they kept vigil with the Lord during the night of the Last Supper.
To ensure a successful night, we meticulously developed a route that included a 6 p.m. Mass at my home church, Blessed Sacrament, followed by visits to Assumption Church, St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Hope Church, St. Lucy’s Church, and many others.
Each destination proceeded with identical protocol: private reflection and prayer including continuous recitation of the Prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory by St. Gertrude the Great.
Visitation of the churches generally started after Holy Thursday Mass ended and lasted until 11 p.m. As many of the parishes ended Mass at different times, we came upon several churches mid-celebration. In total, 10 of the 16 parishes we visited were open to the public when we arrived.
Similar to my efforts documenting Syracuse’s little-known history, I attempted to document every stop we made. Many of the unique characteristics that fill the streets of our neighborhoods are echoed within the walls of our churches. As Nicole and I went along, the photographs were uploaded to our social media accounts using the hashtag #CNYChurchCrawl.
The posted photographs prompted an outpouring of positive feedback. “What a nice idea, they are all so beautiful,” wrote one reader. “This is a tradition that many cities have never heard of, good for you,” said another. A relative remarked that my grandparents, former North side residents and communicants of St. John the Baptist, used to talk vividly about their yearly night out visiting local churches. She stated it might have been the “one of their fondest memories.”
Beyond the photographs, the spiritual experience was quite special and something I won’t soon forget. I felt more connected to nearby parishioners than I ever have as each church welcomed us with open arms and a warm smile. Overall, the night helped remind me to keep Jesus at the center of the celebration of Easter.
Nicole and I have already begun adjusting our plans to include more parishes next year and anticipate additional readers joining us and respectfully sharing their experience on social media. Although the practice isn’t new, we hope our experience has inspired others to take part.