Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Heart of a Saint

A Knights of Columbus honor guard processes with a reliquary containing the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney at Cure of Ars Church in Merrick, N.Y. The relic of the 19th-century French saint is in the U.S. for the first time and is also scheduled to be on view in Boston before it is returned to Ars, France. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

~from Catholic News Service

More than 5,000 people entered Cure of Ars Church in Merrick Oct. 7-9 to pray before St. John Vianney's heart, and the pastor expected thousands more by Oct. 11, when the incorrupt relic of the sainted 19th-century French priest would end its visit and be taken to Boston.

St. John (Jean-Marie Baptiste) Vianney, who died in 1859, is widely known to Catholics as the Cure (parish priest) of Ars. He won over the hearts of his villagers in France by visiting with them, teaching them about God and reconciling people to the Lord in the confessional.

This was the first time that his heart has been brought to the United States. It is usually kept in the basilica in Ars near the incorrupt -- miraculously undecayed -- body of the saint.

Pilgrims who wanted to see the relic waited in a long line leading up to the church entrance. After kneeling before the heart in prayer, many stayed to go to confession. In his life St. John Vianney often heard confessions for 16 to 18 hours a day.

Some of those waiting in line described an overwhelming need to see a real miracle. Others said it was a historic moment. And still others -- many seminarians and priests -- came to thank the Cure of Ars, patron saint of parish priests, for answered prayers during times they struggled with their vocation or ministry.

"I came here to see a miracle," said Laura Musto, 46, of St. Mary of the Isle Church in Long Beach, referring to the incorrupt heart. "And we need miracles in today's world."

"I came to see the heart of a saint," said Maria Gilmore, 82, of Sacred Heart Church in North Merrick. "I thought everyone turned to dust but I guess not."

"We came here on a minipilgrimage to be close to his heart, to have a moment of intimacy with the saint," said Charlie Gallagher, 23, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington who was joined by two classmates, Ted Hegnayer and Rick Nicholas.

"This relic represents who St. John Vianney was and who we aspire to be. When I kneel before the heart, I will ask St. John Vianney to replace my heart with his heart so I can emulate him," Gallagher told The Long Island Catholic, newspaper of the Rockville Centre Diocese.

Patricia Couglin was surprised when her three grandchildren -- Kim, 11, Mike, 13, and Peter DeMeo, 16 -- wanted to venerate the heart with her.

"This is pretty cool," said Peter. He was wearing a "hoodie," or hooded sweatshirt, had iPod headphones in his ears and mentioned that he loved science and magic tricks. "It's something you don't hear about every day, that a heart is that old and still preserved," he said.

"I was surprised they wanted to come," said Couglin, who teaches math at Holy Family parish school in Hicksville. "I thought they'd be watching cartoons. ... As a grandmother, I was really impressed. When we get there, we'll say some prayers and I hope they go to confession."


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