by Marie Elena Giossi
Sacred relics have long been venerated in the Church as symbols of holiness, channels of inspiration and sources of healing; local Catholics sought all three when more than 150 relics and holy objects visited the diocese in late February.
As part of an ongoing North American tour, Treasures of the Church, a traveling exhibition of relics, made stops at three local parishes: St. Bernard, Mill Basin; St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor; and Good Shepherd, Marine Park.
Hundreds gathered at St. Bernard Church to see and learn about the relics during an afternoon program for parish schoolchildren and an evening gathering for parishioners and visitors on Feb. 24.
Canadian Father Carlos Martins of the Companions of the Cross, curator of the exhibit, brought 167 relics from his personal collection of nearly 4,000 holy articles he has acquired over the last 16 years.
He began each session with a multimedia presentation about what relics are, their history in the Church and their use in Sacred Scripture. He reviewed the three classes of relics and discussed how the Church authenticates them.
Though he has seen miracles among people who have been in contact with holy objects, Father Martins explained that relics themselves have no power.
“Any good that comes about through a relic is God’s doing,” he said. “God chooses to act through relics. They’re conduits of His grace.”
Allowing God into your life, he told the faithful, is key to receiving that grace. He urged people to avoid “roadblocks” that separate people from God, including an absence from the sacraments.
Sacraments help people to walk along the narrow path of holiness, he reminded the faithful, and held up St. Bernadette Soubirous, St. John Vianney and St. Maria Goretti as examples.
After the teaching, Father Martins invited the faithful to see the relics and informational materials, which were arranged on 17 tables in the auditorium of the parish school.
Among the saints on display were Francis of Assisi, Faustina Kowalska, Kateri Tekakwitha, Charles Lwanga, Paul Miki, Therese of Lisieux and her parents, Blesseds Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin.
Relics of several popes, the Apostles, Longinus and fragments of the Holy Lance were among the more unique pieces on exhibit.
Father Martins also set out some of the most rare articles in his collection – wooden fragments from the True Cross, a portion of the Blessed Mother’s veil and a tooth from St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei.
Connected to the Apostles
Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, St. Bernard’s pastor, was drawn to the reliquary containing pieces of the 12 Apostles. “That was very special. I felt very connected,” he said.
The monsignor was also impressed by the connections his parishioners – and some former parishioners from Mary, Queen of Heaven, Old Mill Basin – were making with their favorite saints.
“I was really taken back by the reverence people had when looking at the relics,” he said. “I think people will have a better understanding of the traditions of the Church and because of this knowledge, the devotion will continue.”
Seeing the crowds heartened parish Deacon Christopher Wagner. After reading about Father Martins’ last visit to the diocese in The Tablet, he e-mailed the priest and waited two years to get on the circuit.
Deacon Wagner wanted to bring this exhibit to the parishes he serves, both St. Bernard and Good Shepherd, because he feels the significance of relics has been lost in recent years, especially among young adults.
He hoped this opportunity would inspire the faithful and restore their sense of connection to the community of saints.
Relics, he explained, “humanize the saints and enable us to identify with them. They’ve reached something we all hope to reach.”
In his life, the deacon says he tries to follow the examples of holiness set by Blessed Pope John Paul II and St. Padre Pio, both of whose relics were part of the exhibit. And after Father Martins’ talk, he also has a new appreciation for Maria Goretti, patron of youth and purity.
Another female saint who garnered attention was St. Lucy, patron saint of the eyes. Anne O’Sullivan from St. Camillus parish, Rockaway Park, touched images of her brother and nephew to a first-class relic of the young Christian martyr.
Her brother Joe, a fireman, held the relic in the hopes of receiving strength for his journey and healing for his little boy. He served at Ground Zero and has since suffered an eye stroke and partial vision loss. His seven-year-old son was born with poor vision and prays to St. Lucy every night before bed.
“What Father Carlos said is that we have to accept what God gives us,” Joe told a fellow attendee. “We’re His vessels and through His grace, one day, maybe we’ll both be healed.”