Thousands lined up to venerate the major relic of St. Francis Xavier Jan. 18 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, one stop on a national pilgrimage tour organized by Catholic Christian Outreach, the Jesuits of Canada, and the Archdiocese of Ottawa. (Photo by Tim Yaworski)
SASKATOON — Organizers of a national tour with the forearm of St. Francis Xavier identified several blessings they hope will flow from the veneration of the relic by thousands across Canada, Angle Regnier said Jan. 18 at a public event at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.
Conversion to Christ, a missionary abandonment to God’s will, and healing are three graces expected from the relic pilgrimage, described Regnier, who along with her husband Andre founded the Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) university evangelization movement in Saskatoon in 1988.
CCO organized the pilgrimage in conjunction with the Jesuits of Canada and the Archdiocese of Ottawa as a way to mark CCO’s 30th anniversary, as well as the 150th anniversary of confederation. Along with St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis Xavier is one of the patron saints of CCO.
“The graces that we have chosen are based on the life of St. Francis Xavier, who is alive and well in heaven, and with us in a particular way through this relic,” said Regnier, challenging those who came out to see the relic to ask for the missionary saint’s intercessory prayers.
“Do you need to put Christ at the centre of your life? Do you need to give thought to greater (missionary) abandonment? Or do you need healing?”
Some 4,700 attended events in Saskatoon during the pilgrimage — including public veneration and school visits at the cathedral, a presentation on campus and an event for CCO members and alumni held at St. Francis Xavier Parish, as well as a closing mass with Bishop Mark Hagemoen Jan. 19, also held at St. Francis Xavier Parish.
During the day of public viewing and veneration, the evening program included testimony, talks, the sacrament of reconciliation, music, and prayer. Those in attendance heard how the pilgrimage has attracted a lot of interest, discussion, and media coverage — an opportunity to speak about Jesus Christ and God’s glory to many who are hungry for meaning, said Regnier.
“A letter that St. Francis Xavier sent across Europe about his adventures and his mission to Asia inflamed so many to be generous with God and give their entire lives in the service of the church,” she described. “Taking the relic of St. Francis Xavier across Canada, (we also hope) that Canadians — especially Canadian young people — will be enflamed with love for the church’s mission and will give themselves fully to Christ.”
Regnier stressed the importance of Christians being missionary disciples in their own lives. “Even if you are not called to India, every one is missionary by virtue of their baptism,” she said.
“This world today needs more missionaries. We need more people who will witness to their faith in their actions and in their words. For the most part, those words are going to come through real, heart-to-heart conversations: with your family, with your friends, with your neighbours, with strangers,” she stressed.
“Talk about your faith, and talk about Christ, not because we need to add more Catholics to our roster, but because the aim of every human heart is to know that they are loved by God, and to love God. And if we don’t tell them, how will the ache in their hearts ever be healed?”
Regnier and other speakers also spoke about the impact that praying with the relic is having in their own lives and across the country.
“Tens of thousands of Christians of all cultures, of all generations, in all our cities, have come out to venerate this particular vessel of grace: the arm of Francis Xavier which baptized 100,000 people, which would have been extended with the words of absolution, which gave the body and blood of Christ to so many as well,” said Rev. John O’Brien, SJ, of Regina during the program at the Saskatoon cathedral.
The Jesuit priest gave an overview of the life of St. Francis Xavier, considered to be one of the greatest evangelizers since St. Paul. Born in 1506, St. Francis was gifted with wealth and talent. At the University of Paris he excelled as an athlete and was popular among his peers. There he met St. Ignatius Loyola, who became his mentor.
“Francis was a young person wanting to do great things with his life, and at least to know what the meaning of his life was, and he found it through the guidance of St. Ignatius and the grace of God,” said O’Brien.
The friends joined with others to start the Society of Jesus — the Jesuits — putting themselves at the service of the mission of the church. In 1540 Francis was asked with very short notice to become a missionary to Goa, to India, and eventually beyond to Indonesia and Japan. He died on Dec. 3, 1552 on an island within sight of China, which he also had hoped to evangelize.
“He entered history also for the great signs and wonders that accompanied him, both in life and in death,” said O’Brien, who spoke about the meaning of relics in Catholic tradition.
“I believe that relics do carry with them a certain type of grace. This is the testimony of our faith from the ages,” he said, pointing to scriptural references and experiences in the early church, including the veneration of the bones of martyrs in the catacombs.
“Our God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ — is not a distant, ethereal God; for us, the Logos, the Word which is God, is the Word that became flesh. So for us, the flesh is holy, the body is holy, and the bones are holy as well,” he said.
The relic pilgrimage started in December in Ottawa at the annual CCO Rise Up conference, followed by visits to Quebec City; St. John’s, Nfld.; Halifax; Antigonish; Kingston, Ont.; Toronto; Mississauga; and Winnipeg. After the Saskatoon visit, the pilgrimage was scheduled to continue in Regina Jan. 19 - 20, Calgary Jan 21 - 22, Vancouver Jan. 24 - 25, Victoria Jan. 27, and Montreal Jan. 28 - 30, before winding up in Ottawa Jan. 31 - Feb. 2.