An estimated 6,000 pilgrims have braved heavy rain to venerate the relic of St. John Vianney’s heart since its arrival in England yesterday.
“This relic represents a call to the heart, a call to return to what must lie at the heart of the life our parishes declining or apparently flourishing in city, town and countryside,” Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury told pilgrims at Liverpool’s Cathedral of Christ the King on July 6.
“St. John Vianney had no doubt that whatever lies at the center, the heart of our parishes must always serve to bring us back to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,” Bishop Davies said.
The relic of the 19th-century French priest arrived at Manchester’s Airport on July 5, the first time it has ever visited England.
It was first taken to St. Anthony’s Church in the city’s southern district of Wythenshawe, where an estimated 2,700 pilgrims queued for hours to venerate it, twice the number expected by organizers.
The relic was then transferred to Liverpool July 6 for a national day of prayer for the renewal of parish life and vocations. The day included Mass as well as the praying of the Divine Office, confession, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and, of course, veneration of the relic.
Bishop Davies – who is behind the relic’s visit England – noted how St. John Vianney did not have a concrete “pastoral plan” but, instead, had a firm disposition to seek holiness, which he was able to convey to those who around him.
“St. John Vianney never set out to ‘please people’ responding to demands like a tin can blown about on the piazza outside. Rather he proceeded purposefully in seeking to please God,” he told the Cathedral that holds 3,000.
“This led him very close to all his people and especially close throughout his life to the most difficult and confused of his people – the types of people we might naturally be inclined to avoid.”
The key lesson to be learned from St. John Vianney, he said, is that the regeneration of the Catholic Church in England lies in the rediscovery by the faithful of the love of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.
Bishop Davies recalled how the French saint would point each visitor to his parish towards the tabernacle with the words, “he is here, he is here, the one who loves us so much, he is here!”
Even in the saint’s last days, when “frailty and sickness no longer allowed him to be heard,” he would “stand in the pulpit of Ars and repeatedly point to the tabernacle.”
“Everything he wished to say and (urge) us to seek was there in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist,” said Bishop Davies.
St. John Mary Baptist Vianney served as priest for 40 years in the small, rural French town of Ars during the early 19th century. Even during his lifetime he was regarded as a saintly figure. He was formally canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and four years later was proclaimed principal patron saint of parish priests.
On the evening of July 6 the relic will be taken to St. Michael’s and All Angels Church in Woodchurch, near Liverpool, for compline.
On Saturday, July 7 the relic will be venerated at St. Wilfrid’s Church in Northwich, before it will be taken to Shrewsbury Cathedral, Shropshire.
Finally, it will travel onto the St. Mary’s College Seminary in Birmingham July 7-8 for an annual vocations conference before returning to France on July 9.