Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fargo Area Churches Connect to the Past with their Relics

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You don't need to go to Rome to find relics to aid in your spiritual meditation
. Fargo will do!

The Apostle Paul wrote more of the Bible’s New Testament than anyone else, and a piece of him is resting in north Fargo.

The Apostle Paul wrote more of The Bible’s New Testament than anyone else, and a piece of him is resting in north Fargo.

In the altar at the Newman Center in north Fargo is a bone fragment believed to be from the body of Paul. It’s a relic, an item of religious significance.

And it’s not the only one in Fargo-Moorhead.

Among the numerous relics in the metro area are some that can be traced back to saints who lived hundreds of years ago, one believed to be a piece of a great philosopher and even the bone fragment of a pope.

It might be easy for people to consider the Catholic practice – though the veneration of remains is not limited to Catholicism – of keeping a piece of a dead saint’s body to be kind of morbid.

But the Rev. Paul Duchshere, pastor of Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church, believes it’s not any stranger than wanting a late grandmother’s glasses or carrying around a lock of a girlfriend’s hair.

“In our viewpoint, the saints are our family members,” he says, referring to them as “brothers and sisters” in God’s family.

The Very Rev. Luke Meyer, chancellor of the Diocese of Fargo, says relics remind the faithful that “what happened in (the saints’) hearts and minds can happen in our hearts and minds, and that’s their purpose.”

“These people are alive with Christ in heaven forever, and their bones are not mere remains but historic shrines of God’s work in the world,” Meyer says.

Not all relics are created equal, and they’re not all body parts. Pieces of wood believed to be from the cross of Jesus, clothing worn by saints and items that martyrs owned or used are some of the examples of what can become a relic.

Controversy accompanies some of these relics. The authenticity of numerous relics has been disputed. And, though the sale of relics is prohibited by Church law, items advertised as relics can be purchased on Internet sites such as eBay.

The practice of venerating – or regarding with respect – the remains of saints can be traced back to the tombs of the dead in ancient Rome, says Msgr. Gregory Schlesselmann, rector of Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo. He says it’s a practice adapted by Christians.

Christians built churches over the tombs of martyrs. And as they discovered relics in those tombs, they would want them to be as close as possible to the altar, Schlesselmann says. Sometimes the tombs themselves would serve as the altars. Eventually fragments of, or sometimes the entire, bodies would be placed under the tops of the altars.

That basic tradition continues today as many Catholic churches have a relic of a saint – often a bone fragment – housed within their own altars.

The following is a selection of relics found the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church

In the marble altar at the new Sts. Anne and Joachim Church in south Fargo is a small area containing numerous bone fragments of saints behind grate-like doors. Each tiny fragment is housed in its own casing, with a window so that the object can be seen.

  • Relic: bone fragments of Sts. Anne and Joachim

    The altar of the church houses what is believed to be bone fragments of the church’s patron saints.

    Though not mentioned in Scripture, tradition holds St. Anne and St. Joachim to be the grandparents of Jesus and the parents of Mary.

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. Thomas Aquinas

    You can’t study the history of western philosophy without reading this brilliant, 13th-century Christian thinker pretty early on. New Advent, an online Catholic encyclopedia, says, “Since the days of Aristotle, probably no one man has exercised such a powerful influence on the thinking world as did St. Thomas.”

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. Josephine Bakhita

    This Sudanese saint is the patron saint of the Sudanese community that meets at the church.

  • Relic: St. Anthony of Padua

    Often invoked for help in finding lost articles, St. Anthony of Padua was canonized a year after his death in 1231. He was a zealous fighter of heresy and has been called “Malleus hereticorum” or “Hammer of the Heretics.”

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. Gemma Galgani

    This Catholic mystic born in Italy in 1878 is said to have received the stigmata, or the wounds of Jesus, on her own body.

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. Maria Goretti

    St. Maria Goretti is reputed to have been killed by a would-be rapist to whom she refused to submit. As she laid dying, tradition holds that she forgave her attacker.

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

    She is the first native-born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church, according to the Catholic Online website.

St. Paul’s Newman ­Center at North Dakota State University

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. Paul the Apostle

    In the altar at the Newman Center is what is believed to be a fragment of bone from the most prolific writer in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul.

    The altar is in the chapel, which was built after the devastating 1957 Fargo tornado. The relic is located under a stone and cannot be seen.

Fargo Diocese archive

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. Frances Xavier ­Cabrini

    She’s the patroness of immigrants and was canonized as a saint in 1946, becoming the first American citizen to achieve that status.

Fargo Diocese archive and Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church

The Fargo Diocese archive and Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church each have relics of Pope Pius X and St. Vincent de Paul.

  • Relic: Bone fragment of Pope St. Pius X

    Born in Italy in 1835, Pope Pius X was the most recent pope to be canonized. Meyer says, Pius X was known to be “very humble” and was a “farm kid” from Italy whom no one would have thought would have become a successor to the papacy.

    Meyer, the diocese chancellor, also showed a certificate of documentation that accompanies this relic. The fragment itself is housed in a small case surrounded by an ornate setting that has the appearance of marble.

  • Relic: St. Vincent de Paul

    The namesake of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul served the poor his entire life. St. Vincent lived from 1581 to 1660 and was known as “The Apostle of Charity” and “Father of the Poor.”

Office of the Rev. James Cheney

  • Relic: bone fragment of St. John the Baptist

    In the office of the Rev. James Cheney, pastor at St. Paul’s Newman Center, is a fragment of bone from what is believed to be the body of John the Baptist. Cheney says this saint has “helped me a lot in my priesthood.”


St. Benedict’s Catholic Church

St. Benedict’s Catholic Church near Horace has the skull of its first priest on display next to the altar of Mary, behind a pane of glass.

Joyce Rheault, director of pastoral care at St. Benedict’s, says it’s her understanding that the Rev. Alphanse Bernier was buried under the church. But when that area was excavated so a basement could be put in, the skull was enshrined in the wall.

At one time, the skull was covered in Sheetrock, Rheault says. But it has since been uncovered.

The piece is not considered a relic as Bernier is not a canonized saint.

Famous relics

  • The Precious Blood of Bruges – This relic is reputed to be a drop of the blood of Jesus. It is held in Bruges, Belgium.
  • Veronica’s Veil – Housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this cloth was supposed to have been used to wipe the face of Jesus soon before his death. It is believed to have retained the print of the face of Jesus.
  • The Holy Nails in the iron crown of Lombardy – This crown at the Cathedral of Monza near Milan, Italy, is believed by some to contain the nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • Bones of St. Peter – Remains believed to be those of the Apostle Peter are buried under the high altar at St. Peter’s Basilica. Fargo In-Forum

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