Adoration on the drillfield

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It was an unusual sight in the middle of the drillfield at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg - a white tent with a sign on the side proclaiming, "Jesus is here." It also was an unusual setting for the exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament - outside, amid occasional flying footballs and students passing by, chattering with friends on their way to class.

But for anyone on the university's drillfield during the mid-week 24-hour Eucharistic adoration March 18-19, it couldn't go unnoticed.

For Catholics, it was a reminder of the real presence of Christ in campus life; for others, it was an opportunity to ask questions about Catholic belief or to accept the invitation to stop and pray with fellow members of their community; for some, it simply gave pause.

That was the intention of the Virginia Tech Newman Community (Catholic campus ministry) in having a day of adoration in a place that is considered the hub and heart of the university. The event was held in the fourth week of Lent on the open field that traditionally has been the site of cadet maneuvers, demonstrations and other displays of campus unity.

"Praying with Jesus in a group setting here in the middle of campus reminds me how important the (Catholic) community is to me," said Chris Roy, a freshman engineering major from Richmond. He said he was glad to be able to stop by between classes and "say hi to Jesus" and pray with Him. "It is awesome knowing that people also will be coming here in the middle of the night," he said. "It shows how important it is to this community. It says Jesus is alive here."

Roy, a parishioner of Church of the Epiphany in Richmond and active in the Newman Community ministry, noted that the event also provided Catholic students a chance to explain to others about the practice of Eucharistic adoration and the Catholic belief in transubstantiation.

Chris Hitzelberger, associate director of campus ministry at Tech, said some 80 students had signed up to be present throughout specific hours of the period of adoration. He and other staff members also were available during the time to answer questions and share information about the devotion and Catholic faith in general.

For those interested, they also provided a brief handout explaining "why we pray to God," "why we believe Jesus is in the Eucharist" and "what we do in adoration." The last part included a simple instruction that began: "If you've never been to adoration before, what should you do? Come in and sit quietly. Close your eyes and enjoy the silence."

While staff and student ministers were ready to respond to questions, Hitzelberger noted that he occasionally heard passing students informally discussing what was happening in the tent. "I'd hear someone ask, 'What's that all about?' and then another student, who obviously was Catholic, would explain about adoration or our belief in the presence of Jesus in the sacrament," he said.

Father David Sharland, director of Tech's Catholic campus ministry, proposed the idea of having adoration on the drillfield.

"When I first came here, it seemed that students wanted to low-key their Catholicism," he said, explaining that he urged them to consider whether they were comfortable enough in their faith to demonstrate it more openly. But now, he noted, they were enthusiastic about offering adoration in a prominent place where they could share their devotion to God.

"It is a chance to evangelize as well as to experience and explain the real presence of Christ," he said.

As Zach Hoopes emerged from the tent at noon, the junior finance major from Springfield said, "I'm dedicating my prayer today to ask that Christ will work here on the closed-hearted or those who have never heard His message."

He explained that he has witnessed Christ working in the quiet presence of the Blessed Sacrament. "My prayer is that those people who are separated from God will show up here and come inside, even if just for a few minutes," he said.

Hoopes said he considered the day of adoration "a beautiful display of both confirming the belief that Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and bringing Him to others."

Emphasizing adoration at the center of the Blacksburg campus seemed significant, especially since six Newman groups had returned from alternative spring break missions only a few days before the adoration event.

"It's important that we serve," said Father Sharland. "But sometimes we can get too caught up in the service, and then we're just social workers. We need to be rooted in Christ first and foremost so that when we go out and serve, it's because of what we do here - before the Blessed Sacrament or on Sunday in the liturgy of the Eucharist - that transforms us."

Hoopes, having participated also in numerous service ministry projects, agreed. "It's fundamental to the Gospel that we come to the aid of the needy, but we can't neglect their souls," he said.

As for evangelization, Michael Hearndon, a member of the university provost's staff, told Hitzelberger, "You are doing a great work here," as he approached the tent and peered inside. After the two spoke briefly, Hearndon, a non-Catholic Christian, went into the tent with an instruction sheet in hand and stayed for about 10 minutes.

"I sensed a peace, a calm," he said afterward. "I read the handout about how God is present, and I started thinking about the blood of Jesus and what it accomplishes for me. You see that visual in front of you, and you remember His body was broken for us. I thought of what it has meant for me and what it does now, and I started praying over my family."

Becoming animated as he spoke, Hearndon added, "Sometimes believers read the holy Scriptures and think well, that was back then when people were in the presence of Jesus. But when I walked in this tent, I was in His presence, especially with the other brothers and sisters - all adding our faith to each others' so there was no division, because we all believe in Jesus."

This article originally appeared in the March 30 issue of The Catholic Virginian. Denton is the western correspondent for The Catholic Virginian.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015