The phrase "a 15-city Canadian tour" brings many things to mind. The 465-year-old forearm of a Catholic missionary typically won't be on your top-10 list—until now.
Saskatoon is one stop along the Canadian tour of a relic of St. Francis Xavier, presented by The Archdiocese of Ottawa, the Jesuits in Canada and Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO). High school students from Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools had the opportunity to venerate the relic of the saint on January 18, before the public viewing at the Cathedral of the Holy Family.
"This is really a unique opportunity for our students," said Terry Cratty, Catholic studies teacher at Bethlehem Catholic High School. "This gives students a connection to the larger history of our Catholic faith, especially the saints. It gives us a real, physical connection to our faith.
"This is quite common in other parts of the world, especially Europe where there are lots of relics, but we have a lack of access to them in Western Canada." Cratty explained that because the Catholic church in Western Canada is relatively young, we don't have local saints who we can relate to or claim as our own.
St. Francis Xavier, credited as being a founding member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) with St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Peter Favre, was born in Spain in 1506. He is known as one of the great missionaries, travelling as far India, Malaysia and Japan to share the saving love of Jesus.
The relic of St. Francis Xavier currently on tour is his incorrupt right forearm, the arm used to baptize an estimated 100,000 people. The forearm, and the rest of his body, are termed to be incorrupt because they did not experience natural decay, although remains are now dry.* The forearm is usually housed in a reliquary in Rome. The rest of his body is enshrined in Goa, India.
Wayne and Hayley Fernandes, Grade 12 and 9 students, respectively, at St. Joseph High School, have a very personal connection to St. Francis. Their parents emigrated from India in 2003, and they have ancestors from Goa.
"I've been taught since a young age how sacred St. Francis is to us because he brought Catholicism to India," said Wayne, whose middle name is Francis. "To see part of the saint who I am named after makes those stories come to life. To see my namesake is really beautiful. It's an opportunity that my ancestors didn't have."
Angele Regnier, co-founder of CCO who is accompanying St. Francis on the Canadian tour, uses the analogy of the seeing the Stanley Cup when explaining the significance of seeing the relic for oneself.
"When the Stanley Cup goes on a tour, people don't want to see a replica or a photograph. They want to see the real thing. They want to see the names—Gretzky, Lemieux, Beliveau, Orr. They want to touch the same cup that so many players hoisted as they skated around the rink.
"People are having a real and profound spiritual experience when venerating the relic of St. Francis."
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon's website explains, "The veneration of relics is a longstanding practice in the Catholic Church. The relics of saints provide a tangible experience of God's graces. Catholics believe that saints can intercede for humanity, given their proximity to God in what is commonly referred to as "the communion of saints" or the Mystical Body of Christ."
To learn more about St. Francis Xavier, the relic and the tour, visit www.cco.ca/relic
. * St. Francis Xavier died just before reaching mainland China in December 3, 1552. His body was to be interred in Malaysia, but they had to wait months for favourable sailing conditions. His body was buried in China with lime to accelerate the decomposition process. This would allow his bones to be easily transported. In February of 1553 his body was exhumed and found to be "fresh"; his flesh was soft to the touch and there were no signs of rigormotis or stench of decay. In March 1554, St. Francis's body was transported to Goa, India. In 1614, the right forearm and hand were severed and sent to Rome to give the Superior General of the Society of Jesus evidence of incorruption.