Night and Day, Faithful Express Their Devotion

Times Staff Writer

On Wednesdays at midnight, Carl Bozzo, 72, goes to his parish church to pray for two hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, consecrated bread that Catholics believe is the literal body of Christ.

“As you round the bend in life, you know there’s something big out there,” said Bozzo, a father of seven and grandfather of 20. “You want to spend time talking to God. I feel like a leaf in the wind until I get before the Lord.”

He is one of about 225 volunteers at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach who make sure someone is praying before the Blessed Sacrament around the clock, seven days a week -- and has been nonstop for more than a decade, mostly in one-hour shifts.


Participants believe that the 24/7 adoration of Christ will answer prayers and strengthen spiritual lives. At Our Lady Queen of Angels, more than 32,000 petitions to God -- scrawled in spiral notebooks and left on a table in the church -- have been prayed for over the years.

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly encouraged the establishment of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharist, in all churches, ushering in a new era of popularity for the ancient practice.

In the U.S., about 1,500 parishes, including about 20 in Southern California, have 24-hour adoration programs, according to the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament. The New York-based lay ministry offers free starter kits and expertise to parishes and others seeking to begin the perpetual prayers.

“We believe in the power of prayer,” said Linda Bracy of Plattsburgh, N.Y., a member of the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament. “It showers down great blessings.”

In Catholicism, the Eucharist is known as the “source and summit” of the faith.

During Mass, the faithful believe, bread and wine are turned into the actual body and blood of Christ, an act called transubstantiation. Catholics believe that this gives them the opportunity to be in the real presence of Jesus and experience the Last Supper with him, 2,000 years after the fact.

Some of the consecrated bread is saved to give Communion to the sick who can’t make it to church. Over the centuries, Catholics developed the tradition of praying before the unused Eucharist that was stored in a place of reverence in the church.

Time spent before the Blessed Sacrament can take almost any reverential form. In Newport Beach, some read formal prayers designed for adoration in front of the golden tabernacle that contains the Eucharist. Others sing. One plays the harmonica, another the oboe. Many say they just start talking to God about whatever is on their mind.

Most parishes have established a separate chapel devoted to the Blessed Sacrament for fewer distractions and better nighttime security. Often this can be an unused crying room -- where parents take young children while still being able to see and hear the service -- or an unused meeting space. The Newport Beach church, which doesn’t have a designated chapel, is installing a coded lock for better late-night safety.

Bozzo, retired chief executive of a dental HMO, spends his first few minutes prostrate before the altar where the Eucharist rests. He then sits in a pew and pictures himself in heaven, sitting on the fringe of a group that includes angels and archangels talking with Jesus.

Like some late-night worshipers, Bozzo takes a two-hour shift. He likes the solitude of being the only parishioner in the cavernous church, with two spotlights piercing the darkness and shining on the Blessed Sacrament and the towering crucifix behind the altar. But he’s quick to add that he’s not alone. For him, Jesus is there too.

He asks for world peace. For healing of his prostate and blood-pressure problems. For his son to pass the state bar exam. For more men to enter the priesthood. For a needed check to arrive. For a sense of peace, instead of fear, when it comes to dying.

“It really works,” Bozzo said, adding that he has seen a series of small miracles in his decade of praying before the Blessed Sacrament. “It also gives you a sense of peace, serenity, joy and calm. I’m a pretty happy guy.” His wife, Diane, takes a one-hour shift once a week.

Father Bill McLaughlin, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels, admits that he didn’t think the around-the-clock prayer schedule would work at his parish.

“I thought they were nuts,” McLaughlin said of the two women who approached him with the idea. “They had a blindness that helped them. I thought we should certainly try it.”

Barbara Mallos, 64, began the effort and is still chief organizer. The first few months of recruitment were trying, she says, joking, “I almost had a nervous breakdown.” But then word-of-mouth endorsements brought more volunteers, and she said she had never had to twist arms.

“It’s peaceful, and you get to block out the world for a while,” Mallos said. “You get silence and solitude and go one on one with the Lord.”

She estimates that about 85% of her original volunteers are still with her.

One is Carol Evans, a 70-year-old from Newport Beach who calls the adoration “a real life-changer” that produces “a lot of unexpected graces.”

“It’s the experience of just being alone with Jesus,” Evans said. “It’s mind-boggling when you think about it. Sometimes when I am in front of the tabernacle giving him praise, I can feel his pleasure. The king of kings, the Lord of lords and me.”

She begins with a rosary and then simply starts a conversation in her mind with God.

“It’s just like with anyone else, the more time you spend with somebody, the more you get to know them,” Evans said.

According to strategies developed by the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament, a church,or a coalition of nearby parishes, needs at least 168 volunteers to staff a 24/7 vigil. The key is to have enough lay leaders -- seven captains each responsible for a day of the week, for instance. That way, the practice is never burdensome to overtaxed priests.

Mallos started by calling people on the church rolls, about a third of whom were inactive. Many of those volunteered and returned to the church.

“A lot of people came back to the faith,” McLaughlin said. “Those are some of the imponderables” when determining how deeply the adoration program has affected the parish.

For people like Bozzo, it’s also hard to put into words. For instance, how to explain some late-night experiences, when his worship turns mystical and he feels the presence of Jesus?

“I imagine he’s moving and looking at me,” Bozzo said. “Why not? It’s 1 o’clock in the middle of the night.”