Relics of two Catholic giants coming to NY

Relics of two significant Catholic figures will soon be coming to the New York area.

On Sept. 23, Archbishop Dolan will bless the first U.S. shrine dedicated to Cardinal John Henry Newman at the Church of Our Savior in New York City.

This will be only a few days after the pope beatifies Newman in England. That’s a big step toward possible sainthood.

The shrine will include a relic — a piece of Newman’s remains.

Newman was a priest in the Church of England who converted to Catholicism in 1845. He is much beloved by his fans for his intellectual approach to faith and his clear, powerful writing.

One week later, on Sept. 30, a relic of St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order, will be at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point. There will be a day-long youth rally and Dolan will celebrate Mass in the evening.

The relic (in this case, known to be an arm bone) will also be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Oct. 1 and 2.

The relic is the middle of a five-year trip around the world to celebrate the Salesians’ 150th anniversary and Bosco’s 200th birthday. Here’s a full explanation from Father Mike Mendl of the Salesians’ Eastern Province, based in New Rochelle:

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St. John Bosco, very often called simply Don Bosco, was an Italian saint (1815-1888), apostle of young people, founder of a religious congregation of men (priests, brothers) whom he called the Salesians (after St. Francis de Sales as patron) and a congregation of sisters called the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians—commonly called the Salesian Sisters.  He also sent out missionaries to Latin America; today the Salesians are in 136 countries and are the second-largest order of religious men in the Catholic Church (about 16,000 in number), and the sisters are the largest order of women (about 14,000).

Last year our superiors started a relic from the body of Don Bosco on a trip around the world that will take over five years to complete, visiting every province (geographical division) of the Salesian world.  The occasion for this pilgrimage is to link the 150th anniversary of the Salesians (last December) and the 200th anniversary of Don Bosco’s birth (2015) while stirring up a renewed fervor for the spirit and apostolic work of Don Bosco (young people, missions, etc.), and among the Salesians themselves a rededication to our religious consecration, ideals, and mission to the young.

Catholics honor the relics of the saints as reminders that the saints were human beings like us, and we can imitate their virtues, welcome God’s grace, and become saints too.  In honoring the saints we honor God, who worked through them.

Insofar as some relics of saints are from their bodies (as distinguished from objects that they used), we also pay respect to the human body that will be raised up on the Last Day, as Jesus was raised from the dead.  The just will share in the eternal life of Christ.

A Salesian’s reflections on Haiti

My colleague Hannan Adely recently wrote about the Salesian Missions office in New Rochelle coordinating the Catholic order’s emergency response efforts in Haiti.

The Salesians have served some 25,000 young people in Port-au-Prince through schools, orphanages, and other programs.

More than 200 children died in one Salesian-run schools. Nine of the order’s buildings were destroyed, including their HQ for Haiti.

tjndc5-5gqfoacbvev1cfl40jg9_layoutThe worldwide leader of the Salesians, Father Pascual Chavez, visited Haiti last week to see the wreckage himself and offer his support (that’s him at the Marian Shrine Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point in 2007). He’s written a letter about the experience, which includes this:

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While I listened to the accounts of those who survived, especially those who managed to escape death after hours or days being trapped between floors, ceilings, and walls, and gradually as I looked at the buildings and homes destroyed, I tried to hear the voice of God which, like the blood of Abel, cried out with the voices of the thousands of the dead buried in mass graves or still under the rubble. I tried to listen to God, who was speaking through the dull sound of the thousands of people struggling to live under the tents, those distributed by the international organizations or those made of rags somehow put together. I tried to open my ears and heart to the cry of God, which could be heard in the anger and feelings of powerlessness of those who see everything that they had built up – either great or small – gone up in smoke, into nothing. It is estimated that the number without a roof over their heads is between 300,000 and 500,000.

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I’ve been watching out for religious perspectives on the devastation in Haiti — or in Chile or other areas hit by the tsunami. Father Chavez, like many others, tries to hear God with the suffering.

He blames the devastation, though, squarely on human failings:

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It is true that an earthquake of 7.5 degrees on the Richter scale produces a shock with a devastating, incalculable force, but it is also true that in this case the destruction and the deaths are even more enormous on account of poverty in every sense of the word. In this situation one cannot rebuild a life worthy of the name, nor even houses which are safer and more resistant in the face of this kind of violent eruption of nature. Therefore the challenge for today cannot be merely to reconstruct the walls of the buildings, the houses, and the churches destroyed, but it is rather to make Haiti rise again, building it on living conditions which really are human, where rights, all rights, are for everyone and not the privilege of some.

The almost total absence of any government leaves the people stunned by the suffering, submerged in anguish and overwhelmed by despair, wandering around the streets without goal or purpose. This constant walking of the people on a pilgrimage in the struggle for life makes quite an impression. But also at church level, the death of the archbishop, the vicar general, the chancellor, 18 seminarians, and 46 religious men and women, with the collapse of houses, schools, and help centers meant a tragic loss of pastors, so extremely necessary for this people.

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Chavez also adds this about the response of the Haitian people: “Certainly to be admired is the religious sentiment that leads the Haitian people to gather together in prayer, a sentiment which is now being greatly exploited by the evangelical sects; and in a similar way, one is amazed at the efforts to return to normality when basically everything has changed.”