DEM BONES, DEM BONES, DEM SAINTLY BONES
In all my sixty-nine years, I would never have guessed that I would be leading prayer in a Cathedral Church, anywhere, in the presence of the human remains of a great saint but today that was indeed the case. My diocesan family knows that for twenty-six hours beginning last night at 7 p.m. we had the incredible privilege of having the relics of Saint John Bosco in our midst. The local media, and particularly the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES in articles written by Waveney Ann Moore (all linked on the diocesan web site’s relic visit page) have been most generous in providing coverage of this historic moment. For those of you reading this and not living in our five counties, in preparation for the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Salesian order of religious women, brothers, priests and lay cooperators, a casket containing a wax image of the famous saint of the youth and a major portion of the bone structure of his arm is making the rounds of Salesian places throughout the world. Last night and today are our turn because we have been blessed to have the community here in the diocese for a long, long time (Mary, Help of Christians, St. Joseph’s Tampa, Villa Madonna, St. Petersburg Catholic High School and until a few years ago at Christ the King).
About seven hundred people filled the Cathedral last night for the Prayer Service of Welcome, a similar number this morning for Mass in the presence of the relics, and then about 2700 sixth through twelth graders this afternoon who spent the day at St. Petersburg Catholic, had lunch and then processed to the Cathedral to see the relics and pray with me. Throughout the night the Cathedral was open and there was a line last night until eleven and always about thirty praying at a time. Incredible witness to a powerful presence even in our own lifetime. I can not say enough good things about the wonderful cooperation received from the Knights of Columbus who have stood guard, the City of St. Petersburg and its police department [motorcycles led the procession of the youth] and the faculty, students and staff of St. Petersburg Catholic High School.
Relics not unlike indulgences have slipped from our modern Catholic parlance since the Second Vatican Council so I was amazed at both the interest in and the effect of this saint on those who have come to pray and witness. It is an example of the power of “popular piety” which intuits important things which can not always be clearly explained. Going back to early Christian times when believers went to the catecombs not so much for safety but to be in the decomposed presence of their ancestors and other saintly people, a relic is a treasured momento of some person of the past who has been declared officially by the Church to be a saint. Catholic altars usually always contained an “altar stone” which itself was the home of a first class relic of a saint. ["First Class Relic" is a piece of bone or a hair of a canonized saint; "Second Class Relic" is something which the saint most likely wore; etc.] Today, few altars contain either stones or relics. Today relics are usually found only in a glass container in some Churches and even some homes, accompanied by proper papers attesting to their authenticity.
Wikipedia and the Salesian website all have wonderful narratives of the life of this great saint and his total dedication to the education of youth and particularly poor youth, of which he was once one.
Faith-filled Catholics and the inquiring minds of our children turned out in great number today to touch the glass casket, pray at the site of the relic and recall the incredible presence today, one hundred and twenty-five years or so after his death. His legacy which has long outlived him is the similar dedication of his sisters, brothers and priests. If you are reading this and I do not yet have some pictures of the day’s events, come back and look. I will put them up as soon as they are available to me.
Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!
Tags: Cathedral of St. Jude, Christ the King-Tampa, Knights of Columbus, Mary Help of Christians-Tampa, Relics, Salesians of Don Bosco, Second Vatican Council, St. Joseph-Tampa, St. Petersburg Catholic High School, Villa Madonna, Youth Ministry