By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
MUSCATINE — Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish hosted an exposition of more than 150 relics last month, some of them more than 2,000 years old.
Participants could choose to venerate a portion of the Veil of Our Lady and a piece of Jesus’ cross and relics from St. Joseph, St. Maria Goretti, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi among other well-known saints.
Prior to the exposition in Gannon Hall, Father Carlos Martins of the Michigan-based Companions of the Cross gave a presentation in the church. Saints “live their lives as giant billboards pointing to God,” he said.
Father Martins explained the significance of the reliquaries (containers) for the relics. A handwritten label bearing the saint’s name is fastened to the back of the reliquary with threads and a red wax seal that bears the insignia of the issuing religious authority. This setup guards against tampering, he said. An official document called an “authentic” accompanies each first-class relic.
He offered a brief explanation about the three classes of relics. First-class relics are part of a saint’s body or are connected directly to the Lord’s Passion. Second-class relics include pieces of the saint’s clothing or something used by the saint. Third-class relics are objects that have been touched to a first-class relic.
Father Martins encouraged the gathering to attend Mass regularly, participate regularly in the sacrament of reconciliation and forgive others if they desire to enter more fully into a relationship with God. He believes forgiving others is the most difficult aspect of the faith. He described in vivid detail the suffering St. Maria Goretti experienced at the hands of her killer, Alessandro Serenelli. Despite her agony, she forgave Serenelli. He later repented in prison for her murder and, when he was released, dedicated the remainder of his life to piety and service.
Father Martins said the Vatican contributed many of the relics in his collection. He travels throughout the country for the purpose of evangelization. Participants may not view the relics until he finishes his presentation.
Though he believes he has witnessed miracles in the presence of the relics, the relics do not have magical powers. “Any good that comes about is God’s doing,” he said. Expositions are about giving people “an experience of the living God through the relics.”
Parishioner Adrian Arellano Garcia said he appreciated the opportunity to venerate relics of well-known saints. Seeing small fragments of Jesus’ cross and the spear that pierced Jesus “was certainly something unique.” He believes the veneration of relics is a faith-rekindling activity that transcends cultural boundaries. Participants, regardless of language or country of origin, ask for intercession and touch religious objects to the relics. “The language of faith is universal and very expressive,” he said.
“I thought it was a great night,” said Father Chris Weber, pastor of the Muscatine parish. “Father Martins spoke about being open to the work of the Holy Spirit — and the Holy Spirit was definitely working! The veneration of relics is a part of our faith that I find very intriguing. It was a blessing to see the Lord use these sacred items to communicate his grace to the people who were there.”