Preparations for the Sydney Arrival of Holy Relic of St Francis Xavier for Pilgrimage of Grace

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
14 Sep 2012

St Francis Xavier - a great missionary

The Holy relic of St Francis Xavier will arrive in Sydney on Sunday morning for its national pilgrimage around Australia visiting parishes, schools and groups along its journey.

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese, Bishop Peter Comensoli will bring the relic, the right forearm, to Sydney from Il Gesu Church in Rome, where it is housed under the protection of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) of which St Francis was a co-founder.

Thousands of people are expected at the various pilgrimage stops along the way to pray before the relic, recall the devout life of St Francis and ask for his intercession and deepen their faith.

This is the arm which blessed and  baptised thousands upon thousands of people and has resulted in many people saying St Francis Xavier was the greatest Christian missionary since St Paul. It is very rare for it to leave the Gesu.

Following the early Sunday morning arrival, a special Mass of reception will be held at St Mary's parish church in Miller Street, North Sydney at 10.30am with His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, Bishop Peter Comensoli and Fr Steve Curtin SJ, the Provincial of the Society of Jesus.

The relic will be displayed and all are welcome to attend.

This national pilgrimage is a key event of the Year of Grace throughout Australia with St Francis having a direct link to this country.

When Australia was still considered mission territory, St Francis was one of our missionary patrons, along with St Therese of Lisieux.

"St Francis has always held a special place in the life of Catholics in Australia. Three cathedrals and many churches and schools are named after him. He continues to inspire us as a tremendous example of a missionary and evangeliser, and he intercedes for our nation even today," Bishop Peter Comensoli said before leaving Rome.

The Holy Relic - the right forearm of St Francis Xavier

In a short 46 years of life, St Francis Xavier had a huge impact on the world. Born in Navarre in Spain in 1506, he pursued an academic career. It was at this time he met a man called Inigo who became St Ignatius Loyola. With some other friends they formed the Society of Jesus - the Jesuit order.

But Xavier was not originally open to this influence; in fact, Ignatius would speak of him as the toughest dough he ever had to knead. Slowly, though, he allowed Ignatius to open his heart more deeply to Christ and to recognise that his ambitions, enormous as they were, were tiny compared to the greatest possible ambition: to offer his life completely to the call of Christ the King.

In 1540, Ignatius sent Francis Xavier, at that time his secretary in Rome, telling him to go and set the world on fire. With his usual generosity and availability, Xavier went on a day's notice. He was never to see his dear friend Ignatius again.

Xavier became a full-time missionary. After his initial labours in Goa, east India, and Sri Lanka, he went to parts of modern-day Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Japan. He preached, visited prisons, cared for the sick and dying, instructed people in the faith, and prepared catechists. He faced the great dangers of sea travel - storms and pirates - as well as the hostility of some of the local peoples.

St Francis Xavier baptised tens of thousands into the faith, some people suggest up to 300,000. Many Christian communities in these places owe their origins to Xavier's tireless labours over a brief 10-year period. But while he saw his own work as offering basic catechesis, baptising and then moving on, he also saw the need for people to be formed in their faith, and arranged for other Jesuits to follow him and for local catechists. A constant refrain in his letters home was for preachers to be sent - priests who were gifted in proclaiming the Word, so that the seed of faith sown at baptism could be nurtured and grow.

The more he worked in eastern Asia, and especially Japan, the more Xavier realised that the cultures he encountered were profoundly influenced by the culture of China. How could Christianity be a true religion, people asked, if the Chinese knew nothing of it? For this reason, seeking always the greater good, Xavier turned his eyes to China, going to great lengths to find a way there. He got as far as Shangchuan Island. While waiting for a ship to take him the final 14 km to the mainland, he took sick, and after two weeks wracked with fever, he died there on 3 December, 1552.

St Francis Xavier has a great connection to Catholic Australians

Xavier was buried on Shangchuan Island after his death, but his body was moved to Malacca two months later, at which time it was found to be incorrupt. From the start, miracles were associated with this relic. From the moment of its arrival in Malacca, the plague which had been raging there abruptly ceased, blind people were given their sight and sick people were healed. After nine months, it was moved to Goa, the scene of Xavier's original and highly successful missionary work. It remains there to this day, in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Every ten years Xavier's body is exposed for veneration, and in 2005, over 2 million people came to honour him.

In 1614, the Superior General of the Jesuits arranged for the right forearm to be detached so that this significant relic could be an object of devotion at the main Jesuit church in Rome, the Gesú. This relic has only been allowed to be removed from the Gesú on a small number of occasions, and so we are very blessed to have this opportunity in Australia for our Year of Grace.

Venerating relics provides a tangible link with the deceased and points beyond the materialism of everyday life to the sacred and the spiritual, to life beyond death.

Our focus is not meant to be on the relic as an isolated object in itself, as though it were a magical talisman. Rather, it is a physical closeness to the person whose relic it is, connecting us with them so that we can more readily seek their intercession, know their companionship with us, and be inspired to follow their example. In honoring the relic, we honor the person; and in honoring the person, most importantly we honor Christ.

The Holy Relic in Il Gesu in Rome

The pilgrimage is being made possible through the generous support  of  some key people and organisations.

Invocare Pty Ltd and WN Bull are meeting the challenging transport and logistical challenges in the safeguarding and transportation of the hand-made reliquary in which the relic will travel. There are also certain guidelines that must be carefully followed.

The Catholic Cemeteries Board is also assisting in this area along with Catholic Mission.

A priest of the Society of Jesus will also travel with the relic during the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage will conclude in Sydney on the Feast Day of St Francis Xavier, 3 December, with a Mass in St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.