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Braving the rain to venerate relic

— UK pilgrims turn out in droves to venerate the relic of St John Vianney’s heart in England

Thousands of British pilgrims braved torrential rain last weekend to venerate the relic of St John Vianney’s heart.

The relic of the 19th-century French priest, the patron saint of priests, arrived at Manchester Airport last Thursday from France for a four-day tour of England, the first time it has ever been brought to the UK.

“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, who requested the relic, told pilgrims at Liverpool’s Cathedral of Christ the King last Friday.

“St John Vianney had no doubt that whatever lies at the centre, the heart of our parishes must always serve to bring us back to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.”



During the same Mass, Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool appealed to Catholics venerating the heart of St John Vianney to pray for priests and priestly vocations. The archbishop reminded those present that the ‘Lord commands us to pray for His labourers.’

“Jesus was stirred to the depth of his being in the face of every disease and every infirmity and He sends the 12 to heal every disease and every infirmity,” he said. “This diocese was massively blessed by Fr Jimmy Collins, 70 years a priest, and as the healing Mass celebrated here, when for the first time he was not with us with his healing touch and powerful words, the crowds recognise a shepherd and seek for shepherds who are moved to the depths of their being in the face of every disease and infirmity.”


Tour of relic

The relic was accompanied throughout the visit by Bishop Guy Bagnard of Belley-Ars, France, along with two priests of the Ars Diocese. It was first taken to St Anthony’s Church in Manchester’s southern district of Wythenshawe, where an estimated 2700 pilgrims queued for hours to venerate it, twice the number expected by organisers.

On the day it arrived, Bishop Davies encouraged priests, deacons and the congregation to a renewed recognition of ‘the irreplaceable gift of Holy Orders and especially the ordained priesthood.’

The relic was then transferred to Liverpool last Friday 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 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,” he told those gathered in the cathedral, which holds 3000. Rather he proceeded purposefully in seeking to please God. 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.”

On Friday evening, the relic traveled to St Michael’s and All Angels Church in Woodchurch, near Liverpool, for compline. The next day the relic was venerated at St Wilfrid’s Church in Northwich, before it was taken to Shrewsbury Cathedral, Shropshire. Finally, it traveled onto St Mary’s College Seminary in Birmingham for an annual vocations conference before returning to France on Monday.


Patron saint

St John Mary Baptist Vianney served as a 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 Canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and four years later was proclaimed principal patron saint of parish priests.


Pic: Apostolic nuncio to the UK, Archbishop Antionio Mennini (left), Archbishop Vincent Nichols (centre) and Archbishop Bernard Longley (right) pictured with clergy in front of the relic of the heart of St John Vianney at Oscott College. Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

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