'We love him to bits': Severed arm of St. Francis Xavier draws hundreds in Saskatoon

1 / 3

'We love him to bits': Severed arm of St. Francis Xavier draws hundreds in Saskatoon

'We love him to bits': Severed arm of St. Francis Xavier draws hundreds in Saskatoon

People in Saskatoon got a rare, but brief, peek Thursday at the severed right forearm of a Catholic saint who died 465 years ago.

Catholic Christian Outreach and the Jesuits of Canada are touring the arm of St. Francis Xavier — said to have baptized tens of thousands of converts — to cities around the country.

The revered relic, normally kept in the opulent Church of the Gesù in Rome, was displayed inside a plexiglass case the size of a mini fridge at Saskatoon's Cathedral of the Holy Family starting at 12 p.m. Thursday.

"We love him to bits," Catholic Christian Outreach co-founder Angèle Regnier told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. "He's such a cool saint."

Xavier co-founded the Society of Jesus — the congregation Jesuits belong to — and led an evangelization mission into Asia in the 16th century. 

When lifelong Catholic Mary Nagy learned about the viewing, "it was an immediate decision" for her to make the hour-long pilgrimage by car from Wakaw, Sask. 

"I touched the glass and I also left my intention card," she said moments after, referring to the cards on which visitors expressed what they intended to get out of the viewing. Nagy herself cited physical and spiritual healing as her intent.

"Just being close enough to see, knowing that this was the hand that blessed and baptized so many people, it really touched me."

Jeremiah Shrigley, a 17-year-old student from Bethlehem Catholic High School, was among the dozens of school kids bused in at their choice.

"Just talking about the idea of it, it's sort of vague and just like an idea. But then coming up there to the relic it's like, no, this really happened. This is historical."

Was there a part of him that thought it might be fake?

"I believe just the story of him and how he followed God and his will for him," said Shrigley. "I'm just a little iffy about the decomposing part. I don't know about that part. That's the part I didn't really — I wasn't really filled with information."

Francis Xavier died in 1552 not far from China, but the body reportedly did not decompose. At the time, it was considered evidence of his saintliness and the revered right arm, which is said to have baptized thousands, was severed at the request of the head of the Jesuit order and sent to Rome. Bishops refer to the arm as "uncorrupted."

5 seconds

Regnier said she expected around 3,000 people to show up Thursday, especially in the evening.

People are typically only getting about five seconds in front of the arm.

"But the experience for them is moving," said Regnier. "People have tears in their eyes, their hands over their hearts. They're very very touched and, in those few seconds, they're really experiencing that a saint is praying for them. It's beautiful."

And what about those who may be repelled by seeing a body part?

"Those people just don't come."

Arm has own seat on flights

The arm has received first-class treatment during its travels on Air Canada flights.

"We can't put it in the cargo. We can't put it in the overhead, because it's the size of a mini-fridge. So we have its own seat on the plane," said Regnier.

"It has its seat next to the young man who's the guardian of the relic. Air Canada has this mesh netting that goes over the seat."

The arm is first on and first off the plane, added Regnier.

"Surprisingly, not as many [passengers] ask questions. Canadians are just polite. They're not poking in."

Organizers will pack it in at around 10 p.m. today.