VANCOUVER—Mass-goers at a Chinese church in Vancouver never expected they’d meet their patron saint in the flesh, in their neighbourhood.
Yet parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Parish Wednesday found themselves standing in long lines to view the 465-year-old arm of their hero.
“It’s breathtaking! I was speechless,” said Cliona Ng, a member of the church on Great Northern Way. She was so taken aback when it was her turn to view the relic, she nearly forgot her prayer intentions.
St. Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuits and patron of foreign missions, is buried in Goa, but his right arm is usually on display in a silver reliquary in Rome. It is that arm, said to have baptized thousands in Asia in the 16th century, that arrived in Vancouver.
“I’m very honoured, because this is our church, and he is St. Francis,” said Ng.
The arm, which has not faced natural decay and is considered incorrupt, also made a big impression on community members Rita and Vlad Kot.
“We’re very lucky to use this opportunity. I hope it will help people and we believe that he was a good man,” said Rita.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” added Vlad. “For us, it’s the first time we’ve seen a relic at all. It’s very special.”
When they approached St. Francis Xavier’s arm, Vlad removed the golden cross he wears on a chain around his neck and touched it to the glass display case.
“It’s been with me all my life,” he said of the cross. “It’s helping me through difficult situations, guiding me. I think it gets more power from just touching (the relic). It will help me in my life.”
Any object that touches a first-class relic, including a cross, rosary, or prayer card, becomes a third-class relic, according to event organizer Angele Regnier.
She and a team from the Catholic Christian Outreach travelled across Canada with the relic after it touched down in Toronto Dec. 27.
“You’re coming here not just to encounter this great saint, and he is great. He is awesome. But he would be disappointed if all you wanted was to see him. He wants you to see what is burning in his heart, and that is Jesus,” she said to the students of St. Francis Xavier Elementary who got a look at the relic first thing Wednesday morning.
“When you come up, you’re basically saying to St. Francis, your friend: ‘St. Francis, please pray for me, that my heart will be on fire for Jesus.’”
Sheila Gomez was one of hundreds who lined up to touch a prayer card to the glass case holding the relic of the 16th-century missionary.
“This is a rare opportunity,” said Gomez. “This is something special for us. It’s a real person who became a saint.” She will place the prayer card on an altar she keeps at home, next to a rosary blessed in Rome.
After spending a day in Vancouver, St. Francis Xavier’s arm (and those accompanying it) were to move to All Saints Parish in Coquitlam on Thursday. Thousands of people in the Lower Mainland were expected to view the relic before it moves on to Victoria Jan. 27.
St. Francis Xavier’s arm is set to stop at 14 Canadian cities by Feb. 2.