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CURRENT ISSUE:  July 5, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 13   •   Oakland, CA
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Heart of St. John Vianney
to visit diocese

CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy

The heart of St. John Vianney, among the most renowned relics of the Catholic Church, will visit the Diocese of Oakland, July 16 – 18, as part of a global tour during the Year for Priests which was proclaimed last summer by Pope Benedict XVI to mark the 150th anniversary of the acclaimed saint known as the patron of parish priests.

Visitation schedule

The relic will arrive from the Diocese of Stockton on July 16 for the first of three stops in the diocese. St. John Vianney Church, 1650 Ygnacio Valley Road in Walnut Creek, will host the relic with Vespers at 7 p.m., a talk on the life of St. John Vianney at 8 p.m., followed by veneration until midnight. At 8:30 a.m. the following morning (July 17) Mass will be celebrated in the presence of the relic.

Then the relic will be transferred to Holy Spirit Church, 37588 Fremont Blvd. in Fremont, where prayers will be offered at noon, confessions at 3:30 p.m., Mass in the presence of the heart at 5 p.m. and a talk about the relic at 6:30 p.m. with veneration until midnight.

The relic’s third stop will be at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison St. in Oakland, on July 18. Mass will be celebrated in the presence of the relic at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Bishop Emeritus John Cummins will be the principal celebrant at the 10 a.m. liturgy. A talk on the priesthood is scheduled at 7 p.m., followed by veneration until midnight. The relic will depart for France, the homeland of the saint, on July 19.

Patron of priests

Jean-Marie Vianney was born near Lyons, France, in 1786, the son of a farmer. He faced many setbacks on his journey to ordination. He had begun his studies during the French Revolution and his name was mistakenly included in the military draft.

What is a relic?

A relic is a body or body part of a saint or an object that is associated with a saint.

There are three classes of relics: the first is the body or body part of a saint; the second is a piece of clothing or something used by a saint; and a third-class relic is an item that has been touched to a first-class relic.

Relics have had a long and meaningful role in the history of the Catholic Church because a saint or holy person is seen as an instrument of God, making that person’s remains worthy of reverence. Relics, however, are not items to be worshipped or idolized. They are, in the words of St. Jerome, an early Church Father, venerated “in order to better adore Him whose martyrs they are.”

Today relics continue to serve as visual reminders of a grace-filled life of that individual, which in turn inspire and encourage others to live lives of virtue.
Illness interrupted his first attempt to comply with the conscription order and on his second attempt he missed the troop train, according to an article by Father Richard P. McBrien in his book, “Lives of the Saints.” Instead of joining his troop company, he followed a deserter and stayed in his town where he worked on a farm, taught children and secretly continued his priestly studies for 14 months.

After a general amnesty was declared in 1810, he enrolled in a minor seminary and later in the major seminary in Lyons.

The young seminarian, however, was not a good student, with Latin as his most difficult subject. Dismissed from the seminary, he continued his priestly studies with a tutor. Backed by local clergy who attested to his goodness, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1815.

He spent much of his priesthood at the parish church in Ars, France, where he gained a reputation as a spiritual director and confessor. So many people flocked to him from throughout Europe that he spent up to 18 hours a day hearing confessions. He was known for his ability to read the hearts and minds of penitents and for healing the sick.

He died on Aug. 4, 1859, at the age of 73 and was canonized in 1925. Pope Pius X proposed St. John Vianney as a model for parish priests in 1929.

When his body was exhumed in 1904 as part of the process of canonization it was found to be incorrupt, meaning that his remains did not show signs of typical decay despite not being artificially preserved.

His body rests above the altar at the basilica in Ars. His heart is enclosed in a gold reliquary that is normally kept in a separate building called the Shrine of the Cure’s Heart.

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