The Relic of St Francis Xavier Comes to Canada
Catholic Christian Outreach is a Canadian apostolate that seeks to evangelize post-secondary students. Naturally, one of the patrons of this missionary movement is Saint Francis Xavier. To invoke his intercession in a more powerful way in this 30th anniversary of CCO, a Relic of this saint will be making a pilgrimage across Canada.
André and Angèle Regnier founded CCO on October 18, 1988 at the University of Saskatchewan. Since then, it has grown to include one hundred full-time “missionaries” who work on campuses across Canada.
CCO’s head office is now located in the Ottawa Diocesan Centre. After serving on their Board of Directors for eight years, I have recently assumed the role of episcopal liaison.
CCO’s premier event is the end-of-year Rise Up conference. It brings together hundreds of university students from across Canada for fellowship, challenging talks about living the faith, and social engagement. The 2017 conference took place in Ottawa in part to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial and the 30th anniversary of CCO’s founding.
From its early days, CCO staff chose as their models the Church’s patrons of the Missions: St Francis Xavier and St Thérèse of Lisieux. Consequently, they often invoke their intercession.
CCO leadership has frequently travelled to Rome to participate in consultations on the New Evangelization. There, they often venerated a major Relic of St Francis Xavier, his right forearm, at an altar of the Church of the Gesù.
When I met with CCO leaders to discuss what special character we could give to the Ottawa Rise Up, someone suggested asking permission to bring the Relic of St Francis Xavier to it. I promised to inquire about this possibility during the ad limina visit to the Holy See made by the Canadian Bishops in early 2017.
The Dream Became a Proposal
I broached the topic with Father Vincenzo D’Adamo, S.J., the Rector of the Gesù church. He encouraged me to make the request. However, he told me that I had to obtain permission from several entities. One was his own as Rector of the Gesù, which he gave immediately.
In addition, I needed clearance from the Jesuit Curia, the Congregation of Saints, the Vicariate of Rome and, more pointedly, the Superintendence of Cultural and Artistic Goods of the Italian State. The request should explain the purpose of the visit and the length of time desired.
Our purpose was to stir up a missionary spirit and to encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We hoped that the Relic could visit Canada for a month or so.
Once the project appeared feasible, we planned its parameters. Naturally, the Jesuit Provincials were keenly interested, and both immediately gave their approval in principle. Thus, the pilgrimage became a joint effort of the two Canadian Jesuit Provinces, the Archdiocese of Ottawa, and CCO.
Setting the Itinerary
We decided that, in general, the Relic would travel to cities where Jesuit communities are located and campuses where CCO has a presence. The bishops of those dioceses immediately gave me their eager agreement. Having been stationed in Nova Scotia twice—as a teacher and bishop—I proposed a visit to St. Francis Xavier University. The Bishop of Antigonish responded favourably.
I planned to receive the Relic at Pearson Airport on December 26 and then go to Cornwall—I am serving as Apostolic Administrator for Alexandria-Cornwall—the next day for a Christmas luncheon with the clergy. I arranged a period of veneration followed by Mass at St Columban’s church.
Coordinating the itinerary was a challenge. The western bishops were scheduled to be on retreat during the first proposed timetable. Another bishop asked for an adjustment so he could take part.
Thus, after the nearly one thousand Rise Up attendees in Ottawa venerated the Relic, it left on January 2 for Quebec City, followed by St. John’s, Halifax, Antigonish, Kingston, Toronto, and through the west from Winnipeg to Victoria, before returning east for two final stops in Montreal and Ottawa.
The media have been interested in this reliquary tour from the outset. CBC Radio’s As It Happens interviewed Angèle Regnier. CBC TV’s The National taped interviews and the activities at Rise Up for a “behind the scenes” view of this devotional exercise.
A CTV report mentioned that 17,000 Canadians are expected to view the Relic. One of the take-away lines is that the Relic has its own seat on each of its flights on Air Canada, whose staff cooperated wonderfully to ease the travel arrangements.
One of my tasks was to designate escorts who would be responsible for safeguarding the Relic: “Carriers of the Relic.” Father Michael Kolarcik, S.J., the Canadian Rector of the Biblical Institute in Rome, agreed to accompany the Relic on the journey from Italy to Canada.
Consequently, he had to witness it being dismantled and packed, and he received the forms to be processed by the Canada Border Services Agency. Was our documentation sufficient? We had conflicting opinions on the needed records.
As I waited for Father Kolarcik to arrive, my companion and I overheard two border agents speaking excitedly about the “famous Arm” that would be coming through that day. When I expressed my worries, they reassured me that the paperwork was in order.
The Carriers of the Relic across Canada are André and Angèle Regnier, the cofounders of CCO, Jackie O’Donnell, CCO’s director of programs, Darcy Murphy, a university student, and (in Western Canada), Father John O’Brien, S.J., from Campion College in Regina. I will accompany the Relic back to Rome on February 4.
We hope that visitors to the Relic will seek, through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier, one or more of three graces articulated for the university students:
“first, a personal conversion of heart that will place Christ at the centre of my life, rather than his being outside of, or only a part of, my life;
second, a missionary abandonment to God’s will so that the message of salvation, through me, as a missionary-disciple may be brought to every corner of life in society in the world of today; and,
third, for the healing needed in my life, my body and in our society, which has so much brokenness.”
I invite those along the pilgrim journey of the Relic to share in the blessings. I hope that the visit of the Relic of St. Francis Xavier to Canada will be a richly rewarding experience for all who take part.
The itinerary for the pilgrimage and a CBC news video may be found here.
Photos courtesy of Archbishop Prendergast.