Right arm of saint on cross-Canada tour

A 465-year-old relic, the right forearm of St. Francis Xavier, is currently on a month long, fifteen-city pilgrimage, and will arrive in Ottawa, its final destination, on Wednesday, Jan. 31. It will remain in the city for three days, with viewings at Paroisse-Sainte Marie d’Orléans, St. John the Apostle Church, and the downtown Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.

The pilgrimage has drawn large crowds from all walks of life, as experienced first-hand by D’Arcy Murphy, a second-year international development and globalization student at the University of Ottawa.

“Everyone from babies, to very elderly people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. We’ve really seen so many people flock to this, in faith or even just in curiosity,” he said.

As a student leader with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), a national university movement across 15 Canadian campuses with the focus of “sharing the gospel clearly and simply, and raising up leaders,” Murphy was invited to take part in the St. Francis Xavier relic pilgrimage.

The relic is here because of Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, the archbishop of Ottawa, who originally suggested the idea to the co-founder of CCO, Angèle Regnier, 10 years ago. In May 2017, after deciding it was an appropriate time to ask Rome for the relic, Regnier asked archbishop Prendergast to make a request for the arm itself, which was granted by the end of September.

“In the last three months, basically October, November, December, a thirty-day, 15-stop nationwide tour was planned,” said Murphy. “We’ve had crazy numbers, anticipating between 75,000 and 100,000 people, so the magnitude of this is huge, and it all happened so fast, which is remarkable.”

St. Francis Xavier, born in 1506, attended university in Paris, and although he was Catholic, he was not particularly active religiously.

“His story sounds very much like someone today… he had two roommates and he really didn’t like them, they were annoying, and on a different wavelength, he was sort of known as the big man on campus, he came from nobility, he was popular, he loved going to dances, and drinking, and partying, and he lived a high life and people loved him, he did well in school and he was very athletic,” said Murphy.

But soon his roommates, Peter Faber and Ignatius of Loyola— both later canonized—brought him closer to the Gospel, and it soon became the focus of his entire life.

St. Francis went on to co-found the Society of Jesus, a scholarly religious congregation of Catholicism, and become a missionary, spending most of his time throughout Asia before passing away in 1552. He was canonized in 1622, and this tour gives Canadians the rare chance to view his right forearm, which is believed to have baptized 100,000 people during his lifetime.

“Everyone without exception comes out of it very touched, very moved in one way or another,” Murphy said of the general reaction to the relic. “What I think what this relic points is that this man, St. Francis Xavier, lived an extraordinary life,”

And for anyone curious as to how the relic gets transported on this pilgrimage—it gets its own airplane seat, and ticket.

The relic of St. Francis Xavier can be viewed on Jan. 31, at Paroisse Sainte-Marie D’Orléans, Feb 1 at St. John the Apostle Church, and Feb. 2 at Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica. Visit CCO’s website for times and more information.