September 24, 2021

‘An experience like none other’

Students get rare opportunity to touch relics of saints, Christ’s cross

Third-graders Harlem Moses, front, and Cora Sanders examine some of the 150 relics that were on display at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis on Sept. 2. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Third-graders Harlem Moses, front, and Cora Sanders examine some of the 150 relics that were on display at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis on Sept. 2. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Sitting on the gym floor with her third-grade classmates, Aoife Bigelow listened carefully as a priest talked about relics and the opportunity the children would soon have to see them and touch them—including two wood chips from the cross of Christ, a fragment of a veil believed to have been worn by the Blessed Mother, and tiny bone chips from numerous saints.

“After a saint dies, we believe that part of the holiness of the saint remains behind in the object that belonged to the saint,” said Companions of the Cross Father Carlos Martins to the students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis on the morning of Sept. 2.

“Anything that belonged to a saint can be a relic. A shirt, a book the saint used, a pen. And especially the holy body of a saint. In fact, almost all of the relics that are here are a piece of the body—a tiny bone chip—of the saint. The Church does this because God likes to heal through relics.”

As Aoife and the other children from kindergarten through third grade listened to Father Carlos, they could see the gym was filled with tables showcasing the more than 150 relics that Father Carlos travels the world with—relics of

St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Calcutta, among others.

Father Carlos told the students that many people have been healed when they have touched relics. He encouraged them to touch the relics, too, because “touch is the way by which healing comes about.” Then he added, “Relics are not magical. But God is so proud of his saints that he likes to work healings in their presence.”

Aoife’s path through the gym led her to the relic featuring the two wood chips of Christ’s cross, which was next to a picture of Christ on the cross.

After touching the relic, Aoife said, “Seeing the picture of Jesus’ cross and getting to touch all the relics, it’s very special.”

First-grade teacher Morgan Davidson had the same feeling while seeing the children’s reaction to the exposition of the relics.

“It’s an experience like none other,” Davidson said. “We all didn’t know what to expect coming into it, but I can tell by just walking around that the kids are intrigued and excited to learn more information about the saints who either connect to them, or the saints who we’ve talked about at school and at church. And we’re eager to learn more about each of the saints here.”

That reaction to the relics is exactly what Father Carlos longs to hear.

“I want to give people an experience of the living God through the relics of his saints. Relics are part and parcel of our Catholic faith,” he said. “If our Catholic faith is real, is authentic, then there’s going to be evidence of its authenticity. And that’s what this does. This is very much a healing ministry.

“I’ve witnessed thousands of healings. Cancers disappearing. People who are blind having their sight restored and so forth. But the greatest of the healings is the healing of people’s faith—where they’re able to connect with the Church triumphant. They have an experience of God through the sacred remains of his saints where the faith becomes tangible and real for them. It’s a blessing to be part of that and to provide that opportunity and experience for people.”

Father Carlos shared a longer presentation with the fourth- to eighth-grade students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School later that morning. He also made another presentation that evening to members of the parish and other Catholics from across the city.

“This is so special and out of the ordinary,” said Ute Eble, the parish’s director of religious education. “It’s a great time to pray for one another and draw upon the rich heritage of the Church.”

Lauren Hagan smiled during the early morning session as she watched the kindergarten- through third-grade students draw near to the relics.

“We’ve read a lot about the saints and the things they might see today,” said Hagan, a teacher’s assistant in the first grade. “This is a great opportunity. I think it will have a huge impact on their faith. I think this is a day they’ll remember forever.” †

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