Spokane wasn’t on any map when Francis Xavier traveled the earth in the 1500s.
But the Jesuit missionary and saint will have a real presence at the Novena of Grace that begins here today and continues through March 17.
Encased in glass medallions, small bits of the saint’s human remains are used in blessing the people who attend the services at St. Aloysius Church.
“This is not an integral part of our belief,” said Brother Bud Jennings, S.J., “but it is a way to focus and to honor the saints who’ve been up to bat and hit a home run.”
Jennings, a historian and archivist for the Jesuits’ Oregon Province, is the caretaker of their literature and artifacts, including a boxful of relics.
The cardboard carton holds pillbox-size silver cases labeled in Latin with saints’ names. Centered inside each case is a tiny fragment of bone, dot of cloth or speck of blood attributed to a holy person.
It’s not as sensational as collections in Europe that boast heads and torsos of martyrs in gem-studded reliquaries. Archive files do show, however, photographs of Francis’ right arm, which was once brought to Spokane for the Novena of Grace.
Each relic has a certificate of authentication from the Vatican, a practice begun by the Council of Trent in 1563 to stem the “discovery” and trade of bogus relics. The market was so brisk it prompted reformer John Calvin to remark that, if all the splinters of the true cross were assembled, it would take three men to lift it.
Clerics point out that relics are not objects of worship.
“Veneration does not mean adoration,” said the Rev. Ted Bradley, archivist for the Diocese of Spokane. “Saints are our heroes, and we honor their relics as a family in Spokane would honor an heirloom, or as a boy might treasure a lock of his girlfriend’s hair. It’s a very human response.”
Bradley commented that veneration of relics and the saints has not lost significance over the centuries but is less understood in a modern world that insists on scientific proof.
“There is a lot to belief that can’t be explained,” said Bradley. “It’s faith that brings us to Francis Xavier, and faith that leads us to ask his intercession on our behalf.”
“The novena is not just for Catholics,” said Jennings. “It is a way for all people to lift their minds and hearts to God, which is the very essence of prayer,” he said quietly. “This is for everyone.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NOVENA CONTINUES THROUGH MARCH 17 A tradition of the Catholic Church, a novena is a community prayer service where people gather to ask God’s help and to give thanks. The word novena comes from the Latin word for nine, because the community prays daily for nine days. Jesuit parishes worldwide host this novena every March, the month Francis was declared a saint in 1622. This is the 69th year the novena, which begins today, has been held at St. Aloysius Church. The services attract more than 2,000 people a day. Presenters are the Rev. Jerry Chapdelaine, S.J., and the Rev. Bill Vogel, S.J., who will speak about the beatitudes. Services are at 12:15, 3:30, 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. daily through March 17. Benediction will be offered at the 3:30 service, and Mass will be celebrated at the 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. services. People of all denominations are invited to attend. Wheelchair access is at the west entrance of the church. For more information, contact St. Aloysius Parish at 324-5896. The church is at the corner of Boone and Astor. Suzanne Pate