Karen Adams, Special to the Catholic Virginian
According to Father Carlos Martins, the saints want to be our friends and all we have to do is ask. He knows this, and them, perhaps better than most, as he travels worldwide from his offices in Detroit and Toronto with relics of dozens of saints. As part of his tour through the Diocese of Richmond, Sept. 22-29, Father Martins spent Sept. 27 at Sacred Heart Parish, Danville, one of eight parishes that hosted the “Treasures of the Church.”
Father Martins brought 166 relics with him, including first-class (from the saint’s body, such as a sliver of bone or wisp of hair) and second-class (from something belonging to the saint, such as clothing) relics.
Among those represented were the apostles and evangelists, Mary Magdalene, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Polycarp, Augustine, Thérèse of Lisieux, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Nicholas, Patrick, Faustina, Vincent de Paul, and Teresa of Calcutta. Two large tables held a piece of the veil of the Virgin Mary, a fragment of Joseph’s robe, a piece of the Holy Crib of Jesus, and parts of the True Cross, the Crown of Thorns, and the Holy Lance that pierced Jesus’ side.
‘Let saints speak to you’
Each relic, mounted in an ornate reliquary, has been verified by the Vatican with official documentation and secured with a wax seal.
Father Jonathan Goertz, pastor of Sacred Heart, was impressed by the number and quality of the relics. He’s visited Europe, where visitors flock to see a single relic on display or embedded in an altar.
“But to have all these relics here in one place – and they came to us, in Danville, Virginia – it really is a miraculous ministry,” he said. “They are reminders of the story of our faith, told through the beauty of these lives.”
Maria MacBain, who viewed the display at St. Andrew, Roanoke, Sept 28, termed the collection “amazing.”
“It was very powerful to have a moment with each saint as I wandered through,” she said. “I could imagine the roof peeling back and a holy light shining up from the spot and so many angels and saints looking down upon us with great love and joy.”
Displayed on tables in the Sacred Heart school gym, the relics were viewed during the day by nearly 200 students and staff and more than 230 visitors in the evening. As he did at each of the parishes, Father Martins gave a presentation to explain his ministry, defined relics and why they’re important and powerful and which he brings to churches, schools and prisons. A former atheist, he also shares his own conversion story, spurred by a single item: a pamphlet on Catholicism.
After more than 20 years of this work, he tells of miraculous physical healings, such as a wheelchair-bound man who stood and walked and a young girl whose abdominal tumor disappeared after visiting and praying among the relics. Those are powerful examples of God’s grace, he said. But what moves him even more, and continues to strengthen his faith, are the instances of inner healing.
He encouraged visitors to touch the reliquaries, pray before them, place rosaries and other items against them. Among saints, familiar and unfamiliar, he said, people often are drawn to some in particular. “See which saint speaks to you,” he said. “Keep your heart open.”
There were many moments of private and personal connection with the saints.
Elaine Taylor, Sacred Heart’s administrative assistant, choked back tears when trying to describe the power of that evening.
“The saints are real people, and here we are touching them,” she said later.
She was especially moved by the story and example of St. Maria Goretti, who, before dying at age 11, forgave the man who attacked her.
“That child was wise beyond her years,” she said.
‘Peaceful teardrop in my heart’
Parishioner Valerie Boswell said she did not know what to expect and walked quietly among the saints.
“Then one relic just stopped me and I felt a kind of peaceful teardrop in my heart; I don’t know how else to explain it,” she said.
She walked past, then backed up, picked it up, and looked at the name: St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
“I’d never heard of her before, but something made me walk backwards to look at her,” Boswell said.
Returning home, she researched the 17th-century Algonquin-Mohawk saint who became a Catholic at age 19 and was the first Native American to be canonized.
“Ever since meeting her that night, I have felt so much at peace,” Boswell said.
Parishioner Jessica Foisy felt a sense of encouragement when she saw the relics. After several painful back surgeries, the mother of five has difficulty walking. Despite her disability, she teaches second grade in a challenging public school where she sees children with “heartbreaking lives.” But that evening she felt a sense of purpose and the certainty that God wants her to keep working with children in need.
Her husband, Joe Foisy, also a teacher, said he felt close to St. Joseph that night, and not just because of his name. When he stood before the relic of the “holy spouse,” he felt released from anxiety over his wife’s medical bills.
“I felt like he was saying, ‘Don’t worry,’” he said.
But the most startling moment for the Foisys was when their son, John-Paul, 4, said, after touching one relic after another, “Mommy, God is saying that you’re going to be okay and everybody will take care of you.”
His mother cried tears of joy.
“I thought that was very unusual for a 4-year-old,” she said. “And I felt relieved and calm. God will take care of us.”
Earlier in the day, Sacred Heart assistant principal Angela Crumpler had watched the students experience the relics and was amazed at how quiet and reverent they were. She had planned to stay home that evening but was urged to return by her son, Zachary, 15, who wanted to go.
“It’s awesome history,” he said.
She’s glad they went.
“It was a calming experience,” she said. “It made me want to know more about the saints’ lives.”
Her favorites were Louis and Zelie Martin, “the model of the Christian family,” and the parents of Thérèse of Lisieux.
“All I can say is that I was blessed,” she said.