The blessing of the relic of St. Francis of Xavier at CCO's Rise Up conference during the New Year's Mass, Dec. 31, 2017. Photo courtesy of Catholic Christian Outreach

Fr. Raymond J. De Souza: St. Francis Xavier relic hits very close to home

  • January 9, 2018
The relic of St. Francis Xavier is making a Canada-wide visit this month. It began with stops in Quebec City, St. John’s, Nfld., Halifax and Kingston, and visits the Toronto area before heading to the four Western provinces.

Over the years, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, of Ottawa has rendered to the Church many services far beyond his own diocese. He serves on the international committee producing new English translations for liturgical books and has taken on special apostolic visitations to troubled dioceses on behalf of the Holy See. Arranging for the relic of St. Francis Xavier to visit Canada from coast-to-coast is just the latest gift.

Among all relics of all the saints, I dare say that the forearm and hand relic of St. Francis Xavier might just be the most impressive. First, there are few relics — short of incorrupt bodies — as large. And of course the body of St. Francis Xavier is incorrupt, venerated for more than 400 years in the cathedral of Goa, the site of his most impressive missionary work. Only the forearm and hand is kept at il Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits in Rome, and it is that relic that is making its way across Canada.

The visit of the relic is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Ottawa, Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) and the Canadian Jesuits. Members of CCO, Canada’s national campus missionary movement, are accompanying the relic across the country.

sfx relic cco 02Young adults venerate the arm relic of St. Francis at CCO's Rise Up conference on Dec. 31, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Christian Outreach)

In most dioceses, the relic will visit the local cathedral. In Toronto, in addition to being at St. Michael’s Cathedral Jan. 12, it was also to visit the downtown Jesuit parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, as well as the parish of St. Francis Xavier in Mississauga. That parish is named after the Jesuit missionary in part because of the Goan immigrants who settled in that area of the city and helped to build that church.

For me, on multiple counts, the visit of the relic is an enormous blessing.

I am excited about the visit to campuses across the country, including my own at Queen’s University, to encourage students to be bold missionaries. After all, it was at university that St. Francis Xavier met St. Ignatius Loyola, an encounter which changed his life.

The Goan dimension also means a great deal to me. Goa — the Portuguese colonial seat in India — was the area of St. Francis Xavier’s most intense missionary work. He spent 10 years in exhausting travels in Goa, Malacca and Japan, and he died on his way to China in 1552. As a son of Goa myself, in whose family the faith has been handed on for as many generations as we can count, we count St. Francis Xavier as our patron saint. We celebrate together as a community his feast day every Dec. 3.

We cannot know for sure of course, but this arm that we venerate now in Canada may have baptized my ancestors, may have given them Holy Communion, may have made the Sign of the Cross over their graves. We do know that we owe St. Francis Xavier a debt of gratitude for the faith, so strong in our culture, and we beg his intercession for his continued protection for all the Goan people, whether still in India or dispersed throughout the world.

The parishioners of St. Francis Xavier in Mississauga offered to host the relic for a full day Jan. 13, with three Masses offered. I was blessed to be invited to be on hand for the noon Mass, celebrated by my friend Fr. Edwin Gonsalves, rector of St. Augustine’s Seminary and from Goa himself. The organizers even did me the great honour of inviting me to preach the homily on a day of grace and gratitude.

But of course St. Francis Xavier is not just for any one people, or even for only the Jesuit order. He lived the great commission that Christ gave before His Ascension to the apostles — “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.”

He lived closer to our time than he did to that of the apostles, and so teaches us that the great missionary mandate to the nations is never exhausted, that it always remains the mission of the Church, and that it is always possible, even now, in the third Christian millennium.

If St. Paul did it in the first millennium, and St. Francis in the second, why should we doubt whether it shall be done again in the third?

St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of and a pastor in the archdiocese of Kingston.)

Visit for the relic pilgrimage schedule in Canada.

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