By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
TAUNTON, Mass. — Father Carlos Martins has always maintained a fascination with the lives of the saints.
“Saints appeal to me because they were the humans who made it — they were the victors — so they have made it to the place where we all aspire to,” Father Martins recently told The Anchor. “Not only did they make it, but they also serve as our intercessors and they provide a blueprint to help us get there.”
As for the naysayers who suggest the focus should remain on God and His Son, Jesus Christ, Father Martins referenced a homily delivered by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during a Holy Thursday Mass four years ago.
“He’s quoting St. Augustine when he says in a sense the saints are an even better model than Christ because Christ is perfect,” Father Martins explained. “And so His model is unachievable and can be intimidating for people. But the saints — because they were imperfect in their lives, because they were sinners … and had to go through the difficult work of transformation through grace — people find them appealing and can find a strength in their witness that isn’t as intimidating as Christ.
“In terms of human psychology and affinity, we’re more connected with (the saints) in a way that we’re not with Christ.”
In his role as an official “curate of relics” and one of only a handful of Church-sanctioned relic authenticators in North America, Father Martins has a deeper and even more meaningful connection with the saints than most.
For nearly 20 years now, the Companions of the Cross priest has been gathering Sacred relics and has amassed an impressive collection that includes extraordinarily large pieces of the True Cross and a swatch of fabric from the veil of the Blessed Virgin Mary, among others.
“Those are certainly the most popular relics in the collection,” he said.
Father Martins will be bringing his impressive “Treasures of the Church” collection to the diocese for two expositions — the first at Holy Family Parish in East Taunton on February 24 at 7 p.m., and then on February 25 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River.
Having collected relics of all kinds since 1997, Father Martins views “Treasures of the Church” as a unique opportunity for evangelization and something far more than a “traveling museum” display.
“It’s basically having the Church go outdoors, and I knew that’s what needed to happen from the beginning,” Father Martins said of his ministry. “I knew that the Church needed to make a point of contact with the world in new ways. When I read that St. John Paul II was proposing the New Evangelization, it really resonated with me. It was very congruent with my own thinking.”
What’s even more amazing about Father Martins’ deep devotion and undeniable faith is that this educated historian and researcher converted to Catholicism in 1996 after being a professed atheist.
“I began collecting relics one year after that,” he said. “The long and the short of it is this is a ministry that I never foresaw, but God did. He led me into it in a sense that He made relics almost literally fall into my lap. I didn’t know why this was happening; but I did know, from the outset, that it was an extraordinarily rare thing to gain just one relic. They were coming in from all over the world in the beginning, and it was a function of being at the right place at the right time — there was never anything planned.”
Likening himself to something akin to a Catholic archeologist — a would-be Indiana Jones in a Roman collar instead of the tell-tale fedora — Father Martins has also become one of the leading experts in authenticating holy relics and one of the select few who repairs the Sacred antiquities and their delicate reliquaries.
“That’s another dimension of the ministry that doesn’t have anything to do with the exposition of relics, per se, but it’s an important function for the Church that I fulfill, because you just can’t go to anybody and have them do a repair or have them identify a relic,” he said. “I’m virtually the only known one in North America who does repairs. There are others who have a license — I know three of them — but they don’t do repairs because they are functioning as parish priests. I need several months’ turnaround time, depending upon what needs to be repaired.”
Although he doesn’t have a parochial assignment, this native of Ontario, Canada keeps busy not only with relics, but also with running a Catholic chaplaincy at one of the largest universities in the Great White North.
But his relic ministry and authentication work have become “really overwhelming.”
“I can usually make an assessment in about 10 seconds,” he said. “I can tell you: ‘Yes, this is authentic or this is not.’ People are always amazed and ask: ‘How are you able to know just by looking at it? You must be seeing the Holy Spirit.’ Well, I’m not seeing the Holy Spirit. What I see is a piece of work that I can identify as having come from a certain hand, meaning made by a very specific, historical person. I can see his or her marks or their signature on it.”
Just as a trained art historian can identify a painting by the famed artist Monet, Father Martins said he can, likewise, tell if a relic was created by a legitimate, Church-approved source.
“They can tell because Monet has his signatures and it’s very, very difficult — virtually impossible — to learn the subtleties of those signatures,” he said.
Having given countless relics his seal of approval, Father Martins said the authentication process doesn’t require any further blessing from the Holy See or endorsement from the Vatican.
“I am their approval — I’m their point of contact,” he said. “So for relics that I sanction, if you will, I will provide a certificate of authenticity, which is the ecclesial term for it, and they can be encased in any altar or housed in any church, which are the two highest forms of veneration. Those are the ones that are the most restricted.”
Among the more than 150 items included in the “Treasures of the Church” exposition are rare first-class relics — physical remnants of the saint (usually bone particles or hair) — from St. Peter and the majority of Jesus’ Apostles; St. Patrick; St. Therese of Lisieux; St. Anthony of Padua; St. Francis of Assisi; St. John Vianney; St. Maria Goretti; St. Vincent de Paul; St. Anne; St. Augustine; St. Bernadette; St. Dominic; and even the recently-canonized St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. André Bessette.
“What I do is I give a presentation first,” Father Martins said. “The point of the presentation is to share the Word. I talk about relics, about what they are … and I read some Scriptural passages. It’s very much a charismatic presentation that presents the basic Gospel message.
“What underlies that is this: I guarantee everyone will have an experience of the Holy Spirit that evening. If they give God their heart and they invite Him into their heart that night, they will experience God in a way unlike they ever have before. I go on record with that guarantee and in 18 years I’ve never had anyone come back to me to make a warranty claim.”
Attendees are not only allowed to view the relics up close but are encouraged to touch and venerate them, Father Martins said.
“I train people to identify which saint is calling them,” he added. “I tell them: ‘Look, these saints have come a long way to meet you. There are an awful lot of them here, and there’s going to be one who reaches out to you.’ So I train them how to hear that message.”
These unique interactions have resulted in thousands of healing accounts that have been reported back to Father Martins over the years.
And these physical healings ultimately lead to faith healings as well.
“This is the model that Jesus chose when He ministered to people — first, He healed your faith,” Father Martins said. “He sat them down first, usually in large groups, and He taught them. Once the Word had been preached, then He offered healing. It was when that faith was healed that He could remove whatever was afflicting them. Otherwise, you’re just offering someone a charm, right? If He didn’t give them the experience of God, the love of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit, and His own personal love for them, then they would go away still defective.”
Father Martins has heard miraculous stories of people being cured from cancer, from heart disease, from arthritis, from osteoporosis, from skin afflictions, even a young child who had a severe learning disability that was healed.
“I have to take their word for it, but these are people who have nothing to gain by telling me about it,” he said.
For more information about the Treasures of the Church exposition and Father Carlos Martins’ ministry, you can check out his website at www.treasuresofthechurch.com.