A man holds St. Francis Xavier prayer cards against a case holding the relic of the saint’s forearm and hand at St. Mary’s Basilica in Halifax. Photo by Francis Campbell

St. Francis Xavier's Canadian tour inspires crowds

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  • January 9, 2018
HALIFAX – More than 465 years after his death, St. Francis Xavier’s missionary work has brought him to Canada.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Angéle Regnier, co-founder of the Catholic Christian Outreach that is helping to present the relic of St. Francis Xavier on a month-long cross-country tour that visited Halifax Jan. 7.

“The relic is special, the release of it is special.”

The special visitation was not lost on Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini or the hundreds of worshippers who poured into St. Mary’s Basilica, taking shelter from the bitter cold to view and venerate the right forearm and hand of the Spanish-born saint.

“I came down to see the relic of the arm and I found it quite thrilling and peaceful at the same time,” said Deena Duggan of Halifax. Duggan arrived at the basilica at about 4 p.m., more than four hours into the public veneration that followed a Mass.

Accompanied by her sister-in-law, her grown daughter and her daughter’s friend, the Duggan crew were ushered up the broad middle aisle of the stately church and through a Knights of Columbus ceremonial guard for a short visit before the glass-encased relic.

“I thought it was beautiful,” Duggan said. “I really, really enjoyed the experience and I’m really glad it’s here in Halifax.”

Duggan was aware of the university located in Antigonish, 215 kilometres northwest of Halifax, that bears the saint’s name, but she admitted to not knowing too much else about Frances Xavier.

“I knew that he had been a missionary. I heard his name through Catholic church-going, but I didn’t really know that much about him so I’m glad to get the booklet and learn a little bit more.”

SFX relic armArm relic of St. Francis Xavier. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Christian Outreach)

What she could learn was that the right hand of St. Francis Xavier baptized more than 100,000 people, many during his Asian missionary work, and the saint was a prolific healer and evangelizer and a co-founder of the Jesuit order.

About 900 people had spent a minute or less with the saint by the time Mancini was ready to celebrate 5 p.m. Mass. 

In his homily, the bishop connected the dots between Francis Xavier’s acquiescent missionary efforts and the Epiphany Gospel story of the wise men deciding to return to their homes by another route to avoid Herod. The different road, Mancini said, is the way of the Lord and it was similar to the obedient road Francis Xavier took on his missionary commitments.

“The Epiphany is the gift of God’s love welcomed, received and accepted,” Mancini said.

The new evangelization requires people with some of St. Francis Xavier’s zeal to share the good news, he said. One person willing to accept the challenge is Sophie Nicholson, a fresh-faced second-year kinesiology student at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“There is just a great sense of peace and I asked that I receive the three graces through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier and that I am able to carry out God’s will,” Nicholson, a member of the Catholic Christian Outreach, said of her time with the relic.

“St. Francis Xavier, next to St. Paul, was the second greatest evangelist for the Catholic Church in history,” Nicholson said. “I am part of CCO, which has a lot to do with outreach on campus, and to me that is important as a Catholic student. Being here, we receive the three graces and one of them is the ability to evangelize among your peers.”

Regnier delivered a 20-minute talk about the relic after Mass. Veneration then continued until 10 p.m., with more than 2,000 people hailing the saint before the evening ended with closing prayers and a litany of St. Francis Xavier.

The relic, which normally is displayed in a reliquary in the Church of Gesu, the Jesuit mother church in Rome, began its Canadian tour Jan. 3 in Quebec City, and was in St. John’s, Nfld., before going to Nova Scotia.  


For relic tour dates, visit cco.ca/relic.

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