Rare relics of Christ’s Passion coming to Fall River parish

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — In preparing to close out the Jubilee Year of Mercy, parishioners and diocesan faithful will have a rare opportunity to view and venerate several first-class, authenticated relics of Christ’s Passion when they make a stop at Good Shepherd Parish in Fall River.

“They usually only present these relics during Lent, but they’ve been touring full-time during this jubilee year,” said Father Andrew Johnson, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish.

Entitled “Relics of the True Cross and Christ’s Passion,” the collection will be at Good Shepherd Church, 1598 South Main Street in Fall River, for one day only on October 30 beginning at 3 p.m. This unique collection of relics has been brought together by the Apostolate for the Holy Relics in a special program commemorating the events of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Rare collections such as this are generally seen only in Rome or the Holy Land.

“It’s rare to see these outside of the Church of the Holy Cross in Rome, which is where a lot of these relics are kept,” Father Johnson told The Anchor. “The interesting thing is these have all been authenticated, so we know we have the real thing.”

Featuring eight historic artifacts that trace Jesus’ journey from the Last Supper to the Resurrection with prayer, music, and reflection, the display includes:

— A piece of the True Cross, which was discovered by St. Helena;

— A piece of stone from the Holy Table from the room where the Last Supper was held;

— A piece of the Column of Flagellation;

— A piece of the Crown of Thorns;

— A picture of an effigy of the Veil of Veronica, which was touched to the original veil;

— A replica of the holy nail that contains filings taken from the true nails that were imbedded in copies, making it a relic of a lower class;

— A piece of bone from St. Longinus, the centurion who pierced the side of Jesus; and 

— A piece of the exterior wrapping from the Shroud of Turin.

“There’s a musical component to it; we’ll have music to sing — about eight or nine hymns — so the presentation is multi-sensory,” Father Johnson said. “I’m very interested to see how it is all presented; they say it’s very well done. I’ve seen the relics before in Rome in the basilica, but I’ve never seen them outside of Rome. So this will be as new to me as it is to everyone.”

The event, designed to connect participants to the roots of their faith, is sponsored by Good Shepherd Parish in collaboration with the Apostolate for Holy Relics, an organization founded 10 years ago in Los Angeles. The AHR is guardian for more than 1,200 relics organized into special collections, such as the eight rare relics that make up this touring presentation.

The AHR utilizes its collections to:

— Increase appreciation of the origins, Spiritual, historical and theological value of relics;

— Promote the devotional veneration of relics; and

— Help preserve and safeguard relics for future generations.

The documents for these relics have been reviewed and authenticated prior to the commencement of the collection’s first tour in 2007. Since then, the Relics of the Passion have been venerated in more than 12 archdioceses and nine dioceses throughout the world. While this collection was in the Philippines, more than a million people came to see the rare relics.

Tours for these relics are generally limited by the travel availability of the members of the Apostolate and are traditionally presented to the public only on a limited basis during the Lenten season. However, because of Pope Francis’ declaration of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Apostolate for Holy Relics has been pleased to present this extraordinary collection with a customized program at area churches as part of a nationwide tour promoting God’s Mercy.

“Why do we celebrate the Year of Mercy? It’s because of what Christ did for us — what Jesus accomplished through His Passion and death,” Father Johnson said. “I think this is just a beautiful way to celebrate and close out the Year of Mercy. And I’ve just been reprinting the steps for making a plenary indulgence this week, so it kind of all comes together. It’s also appropriate that the Jubilee Year of Mercy ends on the feast of Christ the King, so I just thought it would be the perfect moment to venerate these relics.”

Since ancient times, Christians have preserved and honored physical objects associated with Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the holy men and women who are recognized as saints. These objects include items associated with Christ’s suffering and death, articles of clothing belonging to Mary, and the actual bodily remains of the saints themselves. These objects are commonly known as relics, and the practice of preserving and honoring them is known as veneration.

According to Christian law and practice, no person or group may “own” a holy relic. Rather, a person or group in possession of a relic is its temporary guardian, charged with safeguarding it until such time as custody of the relic is passed along to another individual or group who will then assume responsibility for its guardianship. In this way, relics are passed down from one generation to the next.

As a devotional practice, the veneration of relics has enjoyed varying degrees of popularity over the centuries. In medieval times, for example, veneration of relics played a prominent role in the daily life of European Christians: oaths were sworn and vows were made in the presence of relics, which served as Heavenly witnesses; relics were carried into battle, in the hope of securing Divine aid and protection; persons afflicted with disease or with physical or mental infirmities were blessed with relics, which were viewed as instruments through which God could choose to affect miraculous healings; pilgrims seeking Spiritual insight or Divine favor undertook arduous journeys to famous pilgrimage sites where important relics were preserved; and traveling collections of relics were displayed in town after town as a means of instructing and inspiring the local populace.

While the once widespread practice of venerating relics has declined in recent times, Father Johnson said it’s good to see how relics are enjoying a bit of a resurgence these days.

“I think it’s really interesting what’s been happening, because there did seem to be — especially after the Second Vatican Council — a lack of interest in relics,” he said. “And now we just had the heart of St. Padré Pio tour the U.S., we’ve had the relics of St. Therese, and we had the relics of St. Maria Goretti making the rounds.”

Father Johnson also noted how the altar stone embedded inside every church contains a relic of a noted martyr or saint, which is why the priest and deacon kisses it during a Liturgy celebration.

“Of course, we kiss the altar because it is the altar of sacrifice, of the Eucharist,” he said. “But the original reason the priest and deacon kissed the altar was because it contained an altar stone, which would hold the relics of martyrs or other saints. That’s really the origin of kissing the altar.”

All are welcome to come venerate the “Relics of the True Cross and Christ’s Passion” at Good Shepherd Parish in Fall River on October 30 at 3 p.m.

“My parishioners love this type of devotion,” Father Johnson said. “We often host A Day With Mary and we did a Virtual Lourdes program last year — so I have no doubt we’ll have a good turnout for the Relics of Christ’s Passion. And I have a very devout youth group that loves this type of thing.”

For more information, please contact Leanne Nelson at 508-678-7412 or by email at gsfallriver@gmail.com. Additional information regarding the Apostolate for Holy Relics can be found online at www.relictour.com or by contacting denise@relictour.org.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts