Rare Catholic relic coming to Vancouver, Coquitlam churches

Metro Vancouver’s 400,000 Catholics will get a chance to get close to a saint later this month when a first-class relic of St. Francis Xavier is scheduled to be on display in a Vancouver and a Coquitlam church.

Unlike other relics, like that of the finger-sized rib of St. Anthony of Padua that was brought to Vancouver in late 2016, this relic is the actual right arm and forearm of the saint, who died in 1552.

After more than 465 years since, the forearm of St. Francis Xavier, considered the church’s greatest evangelist since St. Paul and whose body is considered incorruptible, is still intact.

The arm, in a large glass case, is travelling through Canada on a 15-city tour and will arrive in Vancouver, after flying in its own seat on a plane (because it doesn’t fit in the overhead bin) on Jan. 24 for a two-day pilgrimage.

Venerating the relics of saints by Catholics allows them to profess several doctrines of their faith, including the belief of everlasting life, the resurrection, respect of the human body dead and alive, and the connection through prayer to saints in heaven for their special intercessory powers.

A body part, such as St. Francis Xavier’s arm, is called “first class,” while clothing or articles used by the saint are second class and objects touched to a first-class relic are third class.

St. Francis Xavier, a contemporary of the founder of the Jesuits, the order to which Pope Francis belongs, is believed to have baptized 100,000 people, said Angèle Regnier of Catholic Christian Outreach, which helped bring the relic to Canada.

She said while praying before a body part may appear “macabre,” the faithful view it as a way to remember and show respect to a beloved ancestor, much in the same way families visit grandparents’ gravesites.

St. Francis Xavier, born in Spain in 1506, is especially revered among Asians because he spread the Gospel in Asia, including in Goa, India, where his body is entombed, and Japan.

He died on an island off the Chinese continent on his way to evangelize the people there and sailors tasked with returning his body to India buried it in lime to lighten their load, said Regnier. When the grave was opened months later, the body was found not to have decayed, she said. The arm has since dried out, but it hasn’t decayed as human remains would be expected to after 465 years, she said.

Worshippers, including non-Catholics, are invited to pray for graces during the relic’s two-day visit, including greater abandonment to God’s will, healing and the conversion of souls.

“It is a gift for us because the saint is the patron saint of our parish,” said Father Dominic Hoang of the 750-seat St. Francis Xavier parish in Vancouver, which will host the relic from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Jan. 24, including for mass at 7 p.m., led by Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller.

The relic will then make its way to All Saints Parish in Coquitlam on Jan. 25.

The local Catholic community with ancestry in the Indian subcontinent has been given its own hour for veneration on Jan. 24, according to GOA Vancouver.

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