One of the world’s most remarkable Christian relics, the right forearm and hand of St. Francis Xavier, the great 16th-century Jesuit missionary, is on a pilgrimage across Canada this month. On Tuesday, January 30th, the relic will come to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, there will be a brief Liturgy at 2 pm followed by a time of veneration until 4 pm. All are welcome to visit.
English Canada’s religious culture is largely shaped by a Protestantism that does not emphasize the relics of the saints. In a secular culture that does not recognize saints, their relics hold no interest. But it is humanly impossible for a culture to exist without relics… [Those who] simply lose interest in the things of God… flock instead to the hall of fame to see the sweat-soaked jersey of this superlative hockey player, or the puck that scored that historic goal.
Biblically the power of relics goes back to the defining moment of the Jewish people, the exodus from Egypt, when Moses carried the bones of Joseph, son of Jacob (Israel), from slavery toward the Promised Land. The prophet Elisha’s bones were the occasion for a corpse returning to life. In the New Testament, we find that even handkerchiefs and aprons touched to St. Paul were brought to the sick for their healing.
This universal desire to honour relics shapes the noble practice of visiting graves, and keeping as heirlooms items used by beloved relatives — often prayer cards, books, jewelry or clothing. Today, the cutting edge of the funeral industry fashions new jewelry out of cremated remains.
So it should not surprise that when important relics from Christian history are taken on pilgrimage, the response of the faithful is both numerically impressive and profoundly moving. And among relics, the forearm and hand relic of St. Francis Xavier is one of the most impressive.
The pilgrimage is being organized by Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), a movement of full-time missionaries on university campuses, which is another sign that the young faithful are often more interested in their religious traditions than their parents. But the pilgrimage is for everyone
The visit of St. Francis Xavier’s relic has occasioned much curious and informative news coverage, which is to the good because it tells the true story of religion in Canada, namely that tradition is more attractive to young people than innovations, and that immigrants are making our country more religious, not less.
Fr. Raymond de Souza