Arm of St. Francis Xavier, SJ, on Pilgrimage Across Canada

December 15, 2017 — Throughout the month of January, the right arm of St. Francis Xavier, SJ — a precious relic usually housed in the Church of the Gesù in Rome — will be traveling to 14 cities across Canada. One of the founding Jesuits of the Society of Jesus, Xavier is considered by many to be the greatest missionary since the time of the Apostles.

It was Ottawa’s Archbishop, Jesuit Terrence Prendergast, who had the idea to bring the relic to Canada.

“The Jesuit order is all about missions confided to us by the Holy Father and living out our charism in service to the church,” Archbishop Prendergast told the Catholic Register. “Xavier lived that dramatically.”

St. Francis Xavier was born in Navarre, Spain, in 1506. After completing studies in Spain, he traveled to Paris, where he befriended Peter Faber and Ignatius of Loyola. The three men, along with future Jesuits James Lainez, Alfonso Salmerón, Nicholas Bobadilla and Simón Rodrigues, professed vows of poverty and chastity in Montmartre on Aug. 15, 1534. Xavier and Ignatius were both ordained on June 24, 1537.

In 1541, Xavier sailed to India on a dangerous voyage, landing at Goa in 1542, to evangelize the people of the East Indies. He spent years in India preaching, ministering to the sick, restoring Christianity and converting many to Catholicism. Xavier then embarked for Japan in 1549. While ministering to the Japanese, he learned much about China and saw the country as his next opportunity to spread the Gospel. He sailed to China in 1552, but before reaching the mainland, he became ill and died on the island of Shangchuan on Dec. 3, 1552.

He completed a staggering amount of missionary work in just 10 years, earning him the titles "Apostle of the Indies" and "Apostle of Japan." He was canonized with St. Ignatius in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV and named the patron saint of all foreign missions by Pope Pius X. His body is still enshrined at Goa in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. In 1614, by the order of Jesuit Superior General Claudio Acquaviva, his right arm was severed at the elbow and taken to Rome, where an altar was made to display it in the Church of the Gesù.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, had the idea to bring the relic to Canada. (Photo: Archdiocese of Ottawa)

The pilgrimage of Xavier’s arm was orchestrated through a joint effort with the Jesuits of Canada, the Ottawa Archdiocese and Ottawa's Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), a Catholic missionary organization dedicated to evangelization on university campuses. Canadian Jesuit Fr. Michael Kolarcik, rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, will accompany the relic to Canada after Christmas, and Archbishop Prendergast will accompany it back to Rome in February. André and Angèle Regnier, co-founders of CCO, will travel with the relic on its pilgrimage across Canada, including stops in Montreal, Regina, Vancouver and Toronto.

Angèle Regnier pointed out the relic needs its own seat on the plane. “It can’t be put in a suitcase,” she said. “That’s the arm that baptized the hundreds of thousands. … You're trying to explain this to Air Canada: We need to book a seat. He is a person in a way, but it's not a person, it's an arm."

Catholics believe saints can intercede for humanity; thus the veneration of relics is an opportunity to experience God’s grace in a tangible way.

“We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are,” St. Jerome is said to have written.

Catholics venerate relics by kissing one’s fingers and touching the reliquary, or simply by standing before the relic in prayer. Relics can include the body or bones of a saint (first class); objects/clothing that belonged to a saint (second class); and objects, such as handkerchiefs, that touch a first-class relic (third class).

The relic of St. Francis Xavier has traveled abroad before, including to Philadelphia in the 1950s, when the late Fr. Rick Curry, SJ, who was born without a right arm, was a young boy. Fr. Curry overcame many obstacles to become an actor, professional baker, teacher, Jesuit brother and later, a priest.

Jesuit Father Rick Curry (1943-2015), pictured in 2007. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

As Fr. James Martin, SJ, recounted in an obituary on Facebook after Fr. Curry’s death, Fr. Curry’s first-grade teacher, a Catholic sister, thought it would be a good idea for Fr. Curry to see St. Francis Xavier’s arm, though she did not expect a miracle for Fr. Curry:

Neither did his mother, though she wrote a letter to have Fr. Curry excused from class to see the relic. Neither of these two women was making any connection between Fr. Curry’s missing right forearm and the visit of the right forearm of St. Francis Xavier.

But his Catholic-school classmates did! They were praying hard for a miracle. Maybe Fr. Curry would be healed — and be like all the other children. So when Fr. Curry’s mother picked him up to drive him to the cathedral downtown, his class was thrilled.

A huge line wound up and down the aisles of the cathedral. Because of the number of people, an announcement was made: visitors would be able only to touch the reliquary, the glass box that held the arm. You wouldn't be able to kiss the reliquary, as some pious Catholics had hoped. But when several priests saw the boy without his right arm, they said to his mother, "Oh, no, he can kiss it!" Fr. Curry, however, wanted no such “healing.” So he kissed the glass case, but pressed the stump of his right arm against himself — hoping that it would not grow.

On his way back home, on the trolley car, he kept checking his arm. But there wasn't any change. No miracle. And when he returned to class, his classmates were disappointed. Perhaps, they said, he wasn't worthy of a miracle.

But someone else had a very different reaction. When he returned home that night, his sister Denise, who would later become a nun, was hiding behind the drapes of the living room windows. She peeked out. When she saw that no miracle had occurred, she was delighted. "Oh great!" she said. "I'm so happy that nothing happened. Because I like you the way you are!"

Those interested in venerating St. Francis Xavier’s relic themselves can do so in 14 cities in Canada next month:

Jan. 3: Quebec City Jan. 18: Saskatoon
Jan. 5: St John's Jan. 20: Regina
Jan. 7: Halifax Jan. 21-22: Calgary
Jan. 8: Antigonish, Nova Scotia Jan. 24-25: Vancouver
Jan. 10: Kingston, Ontario Jan. 27: Victoria
Jan. 12-14: Toronto Jan. 29-30: Montreal
Jan. 16: Winnipeg Feb. 2: Ottawa

Learn more about the pilgrimage on CCO’s website at

[Sources: The Catholic, Catholic EncyclopediaCatholic OnlineXavier University, Fr. James Martin, SJ]

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