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Thousands venerate relic of patron of priests

The relic is carried in procession by Fathers Daniel Hennessey and Michael Harrington towards the chapel in St. John’s Seminary Oct. 12. Following them are Cardinal O’Malley and Bishop Guy Bagnard of the Diocese of Belley-Ars, France. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

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BRIGHTON -- The heart of the patron saint of priests traveled to the Archdiocese of Boston from France last week and many who venerated the relic said they hoped the visit would promote vocations and healing in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Over 7,000 clergy, seminarians, religious and lay Catholics came to see the heart of St. John Marie Vianney, an incorrupt relic hosted by the archdiocese from Oct. 12-14, according to Father Daniel Hennessey of the archdiocesan Vocation Office, which organized the event.

The heart, encased in a reliquary of glass and gold with a wooden base, traveled from its home at the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France. It has only left the shrine on two other occasions -- once for St. Vianney’s canonization in Rome and the other for World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. During this trip to the United States, the heart was hosted in New York before coming to Boston.

In a day of prayer open to clergy and religious, the relic was hosted at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton on Oct. 12. The relic also traveled to St. Mary Parish in Weston on Oct. 13 and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Oct. 14 for events open to the public. The three-day event began with a procession outside St. John’s Seminary to the statue of St. Vianney that stands behind the seminary.

“It’s a very important moment of grace, of prayer for all of us. In the saints we are able to glimpse a little bit of God’s holiness and His beauty,” Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley said after the relic was placed on a table near the statue. “It’s a great joy to have this relic here, calling us all to prayer, conversion and inviting, particularly our young people, to reflect on their own personal vocation.”

St. Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, was a “simple parish priest who dedicated himself to serving God’s people.” His heart is a symbol of his pastoral love, the cardinal said.

Cardinal O’Malley encouraged those gathered to pray for the archdiocese and for vocations to the priesthood.

Venerating relics is a long-standing tradition in the Catholic Church, which began with early Christians worshiping in the catacombs, the tombs of the martyrs, he added.

Hundreds of archdiocesan priests and seminarians gathered at St. John’s Seminary on Oct. 12 for the rosary, adoration, evening prayer and a talk about St. Vianney in the presence of his heart.

Father Phillippe Caratge, moderator of the sanctuary of St. John Vianney, spoke at evening prayer. He said that St. Vianney, known as the “Curé d’Ars” (French for “curate of Ars”), had something to say to all those who venerate the relic.

“The Curé d’Ars is reminding us of something very simple -- a priest is a man of prayer,” he said in French through an interpreter.

St. Vianney, born in 1786 and ordained in 1815, lived during a difficult time in France after the French Revolution. He was known to spend 14-18 hours a day hearing confessions, only sleeping for a few hours each night, he said.

St. Vianney participated willingly in God’s salvation. He desired to give himself fully to his vocation as a priest, give himself fully to God, he added.

“His secret is his heart, his heart filled with God’s love,” Father Caratge said.

The bishop of Belley-Ars, France, Bishop Guy Bagnard, spoke later that evening about the life of St. Vianney. He also addressed those gathered in French with an interpreter translating.

Bishop Bagnard said that St. Vianney was grateful for his priesthood and knew that it was a gift from God.

“John Marie Vianney received his priesthood as a gift. He was conscious that it was not because of his own strength that he had been given that priesthood,” he said.

St. Vianney also understood that being a parish priest is “both a joy and a trial,” said the bishop. During St. Vianney’s life, priests faced persecution after the French Revolution. St. Vianney grew up seeing priests as heroes who risked their lives to lead people to heaven, the bishop said.

“I would like to end with a prophetic word of the Curé d’Ars. He said, ‘There will come a time when many will be so tired of men that they will not be able to hear about God without crying,’” Bishop Bagnard said. “I believe that it is the time now where people are longing for God and that we, as priests have to bring them to Him.”

Seminarian Matt Mason has felt called to be a priest since he was a young boy and was inspired by a storybook he read about St. Vianney. The bishop’s words about the saint were also inspiring, especially when he talked about the importance of fraternity between priests, Mason said.

“As he jokingly said, being a parish priest is a trial. You need someone to look up to, someone who has been there before you,” he said.

Father Bill Ventura, who was ordained in May and assigned to St. John the Evangelist Parish in North Chelmsford, said that the bishop’s comments were “on target.” The bishop made it clear that each priest, like St. Vianney, must understand his vocation as a gift -- a gift for himself and for the Catholic Church.

Priests stand in the person of Christ and lead people to Christ, said Father Ventura who keeps a statue of St. Vianney on his desk.

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