By Laureen McMahon
The Vancouver Archdiocese will soon welcome the relics of two great saints, St. John Vianney and Saint John Bosco.
From Oct. 3-8, the heart of Saint John Vianney, whose incorrupt body and heart were encased in separate glass reliquaries after his death in France 150 years ago, will visit several locations around the diocese, spending one day at each.
The tour begins at Holy Rosary Cathedral, then moves to Westminster Abbey and the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, on to St. Matthew’s Parish in Surrey, to Our Lady of Fatima in Coquitlam, and back to Holy Rosary Cathedral. The final day of the exhibition will be at St. Paul’s Parish in Richmond.
On the next three days, Oct. 9-11, a relic of St. John Bosco, founder of the Society of St. Francis de Sales (Salesian Society), will visit Surrey’s Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, where the Don (a traditional Italian honorific for a priest) Bosco Centre was founded several years ago by Salesian priests to offer activities geared to youth in the community.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, will celebrate the Oct. 10 Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel at 11:15 a.m. The relic will remain under the care of the parish until after Thanksgiving, Oct. 11, according to pastor Father Mario Villaraza, SDB.
Throughout history the relics of saints have been objects of veneration and contemplation.
Seventh-century Saint John of Damascus called the bodily remains of the saints “treasuries and pure habitations of God.” Christ, he wrote, “made the remains of the saints to be fountains of salvation to us, pouring forth manifold blessings and abounding in oil of sweet fragrance.”
The physical fragments of the saints have been described as a link to their lives, just as inheriting a piece of jewellery from a beloved grandmother has special meaning after her death.
However, beyond simply reminding us of the saints, relics connect us to great and holy souls and have special significance for pilgrims seeking healing for themselves or a loved one.
St. John Vianney, called by Pope John Paul II in his 1984 apostolic exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, the “extra-ordinary apostle of the confessional,” became famous as the Cure of Ars, a small village near Lyon, France.
The struggling scholar was later celebrated as a great confessor who deeply touched those who came to him, drawn by his supernatural knowledge, remarkable insight into peoples’ hearts, and great common sense. Thousands of pilgrims flocked to hear his counsel and came away astonished by his gentleness, cheerfulness and unfailing humility.
St. John Vianney was canonized in 1925; four years later Pope Pius XI named him the patron saint of parish priests.
Last April, when the heart relic visited the Marian shrine in Knock, Ireland, as part of a pilgrimage to Cork, Dublin, Knock, and Armagh in Northern Ireland, Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe suggested the relic of such a remarkable saint could make priests “more keenly aware of the horror of sin.”
The relic, he said, has the power to “inspire us priests to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, who called us to be faithful to our duties in the confessional, at the altar, and with the sick and afflicted; in a word, to the work of saving souls.”
As soon as the relic of St. John Vianney leaves, a relic of St. John Bosco will arrive in Vancouver, 18 months into a worldwide tour of more than 100 nations to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salesian society. The journey will end shortly before the 200th anniversary of the saint’s birth near Turin, Italy. The website www.donboscoamongus.org has background information on the relic, the tour, and on Don Bosco, including a song written in his honour.
In 1845, driven by his wish to help young and poor children victimized by the Industrial Revolution, Don Bosco opened a night school, the first of many schools for boys, in Valdocco, now part of Turin. The school rules for his helpers became the foundation of the Rule of the Society of St. Francis de Sales approved by Pope Pius IX in 1873.
Salesian houses opened in France and Argentina, then expanded into Austria, Britain, Spain, around South America and to other parts of the world. The missionary organization is today the third largest in the world and is in 130 countries.
The relic of Don Bosco includes the bones and tissues of his right hand and arm placed within a wax replica of his body in a glass box mounted on a large wood and metal cart. The whole display, weighing more than 816 kilos and measuring around two and a half metres by one metre by one and one-third metre, has flown around the world, then transported in specially designed trucks. Before entering Canada, it crossed the U.S. from west to east and from south to north, with the final visits being in New York and Chicago.
As well as staffing parishes, Salesian communities primarily operate shelters for homeless or at-risk youth and schools, both technical, vocational, as well as language instruction centres for youths and adults, and boys’ clubs and community centres. The community publishes resource materials and engages in world wide mission work. In the 1990s, they launched a network of colleges and universities. The official university of the society is the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome.
The Don Bosco Society Centre at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish has facilities for sports, theatrical productions, meetings, and other activities geared to youth.
Our Lady of Good Counsel is the final stop for the relic in North America. It had previously visited both Montreal and Toronto before coming to the west coast.
For detailed information on the times and dates of the appearance of the relics of both saints, go to www.rcav.org/relics.