150-year-old priestly heart tours the U.S.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED -

NEW YORK — The 150year-old heart of a French priest is on a U.S. tour — a Ro­man Catholic relic with New York City as its lat­est stop.

It was on dis­play Satur­day at St. Pa­trick’s Cathe­dral on Fifth Av­enue, where both the faith­ful and the cu­ri­ous lined up to see the hu­man or­gan be­hind glass. The Knights of Colum­bus fra­ter­nity is spon­sor­ing the pil­grim­age of this heart, which has been to 28 states so far, with more com­ing up.

Car­di­nal Timothy Dolan, the arch­bishop of New York, is to lead a Sun­day pro­ces­sion ven­er­at­ing the heart of St. John Vian­ney, who was a priest in the south­ern French town of Ars, out­side Lyon. Dur­ing the 1848 revo­lu­tion in France, he helped to hide priests on the run.

The tra­di­tion of pre­serv­ing the body parts of saintly Catholics goes back to the Mid­dle Ages in Italy. When St. Cather­ine of Siena died in Rome, her home­town of Siena wanted her re­mains. But it didn’t want to get caught mak­ing off with the whole body, and de­cided to take just her head.

Vian­ney is con­sid­ered the pa­tron saint of parish priests, famed for hear­ing confession­s for end­less hours with an ear so un­der­stand­ing that he drew Catholics from across Europe.

“He would also re­count to them the sins they left out, be­cause he in­stinc­tively felt who they are,” says Joseph Cullen, a mem­ber of the Knights of Colum­bus. “But he had a heart of gold.”

In the next week, Vian­ney’s heart will be dis­played in schools and churches in other parts of New York City as well as other venues on the East Coast. The relic is to re­turn to its per­ma­nent home at a French shrine in Ars in early June. The U.S. tour be­gan in Novem­ber.

“Vian­ney was rec­og­nized by the church as a saint, and since then, priests es­pe­cially have hon­ored him and looked to him as a good model for the way they’re sup­posed to be liv­ing their lives,” said Msgr. Robert Ritchie, who has worked as a pas­tor in the Bronx and Har­lem. “It’s a per­fect time, es­pe­cially for priests in the mid­dle of the scan­dals and all of the sto­ries that are go­ing around. We need an ex­am­ple of some­body good, holy and pure.”

Julie Walker As­so­ci­ated Press

THE EN­CASED heart of 19th cen­tury French priest St. John Vian­ney is on dis­play at St. Pa­trick’s Cathe­dral in New York, draw­ing the faith­ful and the cu­ri­ous.

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