By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 19, 2018
ATLANTA—A stream of believers visited Holy Spirit Church on Dec. 7 and 8 to venerate a relic of St. John Vianney.
The incorrupt heart of the patron saint of parish priests made a two-day stop at the Atlanta parish.
The faithful came to pray before the relic of St. John Vianney, a French priest of the 19th century. They knelt for a few moments on the marble floor in front of the heart. Some touched the prayer card to the glass case of the golden reliquary. White roses surrounded it. Two members of the Knights of Columbus served as honor guards. A large image of the saint stood behind the reliquary.
The relic and his body are kept at the shrine of Ars in France. St. John Vianney was born in 1786 and served as a parish priest in the French town. He would spend as many as 18 hours a day hearing confessions from people who traveled from throughout Europe to see the priest because of his holiness and piety. He also had a great love of and fostered devotion to St. Philomena. He died in 1859. Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1925 and proclaimed him patron saint of parish priests in 1929.
The Knights of Columbus is sponsoring a tour of the U.S. from November to June 2019. The relic was displayed on Friday, Dec. 7, and the morning of Saturday, Dec. 8. Its next stop was Washington, D.C.
Msgr. Edward Dillon, the pastor of the Atlanta parish, said the French priest was well known for the time he devoted to listening to confessions.
The saint attracted the faithful from France and beyond to his confessional by helping people turn to God, said the pastor. In the same way, people who come to the relic can be reminded to refocus their lives on God, he said. Also, it is a reminder for the church leaders and Catholics to put God at the center as they confront the sex abuse scandal, he said.
The Catholic Church teaches that a relic—such as the heart of St. John Vianney—is offered to the faithful for veneration, but neither the relic nor the saint is worshipped. Veneration recognizes the fact that God has worked through the saint.
Kim Schulman, who works at the Atlanta parish, said the church has hosted a variety of saint relics, from St. Padre Pio to St. Gianna Beretta Molla.
“We always want people to remember the communion of saints. They help us become connected with our faith and with Jesus,” she said.
They are good reminders of living a life of virtue, Schulman said.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, said in statement that St. John Vianney offers an example to help the church heal and rebuild.
“We now welcome as providential this opportunity to invoke the intercession of the patron saint of parish priests, whose holiness and integrity is a singular model for clergy,” Anderson said in his statemen
Catholic News Service contributed to this article.