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What are the Relics anyway?

The tradition of venerating relics of martyrs and saints commenced early in the history of the Church. It dates back to the second century. The early Fathers of the Church, like Augustine and John Crysostom, embraced the idea with enthusiasm. Often particular sites, where holy men and women had been buried, became places of pilgrimage and prayer, and frequently grew to become centres of healing for body and spirit. Soon the practice was introduced in the Church of removing some of the bones and distributing them as relics to be used in the consecration of altars for the celebration of Mass. Efforts were consistently made to avoid superstition and exaggeration. It has not been a common practice for relics to be carried in pilgrimage, though we have recently witnessed in this country the visit of the remains of the Little Flower, and the Cure of Ars. The arrival in the UK of the relic of Don Bosco in January next continues this practice.


The driving force behind the tradition of relic veneration has been the recognition that these men and women were people who experienced the closeness and love of God in a particularly powerful manner, and who responded to God’s call with great generosity. For some this generosity took the form of martyrdom, for others a life of intense prayer and mysticism, for others a life of self-giving service, especially to the poor and marginalised. The relic is an intimate link with these saints, whom we believe to be enjoying now the fullness of life with the God of everlasting love; it is an expression of the communion of saints, our oneness in the Risen Jesus with those who have gone before us. It is a symbol and reminder of the impact which their lives have made on the community of the Church, and


also on the wider world, an impact which in many cases continues still. Relics remind us of the presence and providence of our God in our own lives, and of God’s utter centrality to life’s meaning. It is a pointer to God’s ongoing call to each of us in our daily living to be people of prayer, sacrifice and compassionate outreach. The presence of a relic can be the occasion of special blessings from God in response to our devotion and prayer.

It is in this context that we welcome to the UK the relics of Don Bosco, the priest of Turin who was called to reflect to young people the love of God, and who responded with such creative enthusiasm and dedication. Drawing on the spirituality of Francis de Sales, he introduced a way of Gospel living and a style of approaching and engaging the young, which has had an enormous impact in so many countries and cultures across the world. The presence of his relics will remind us of the importance of young people in the eyes of Jesus; it will challenge us as individuals, as Church communities, and as a society to re-examine the way in which we respond to young people and their needs in today’s world. It will call from us a renewed commitment to generous service.

Last modified on Monday, 10 February 2014 19:51