St. Francis Xavier's 'priestly arm' stops in Nova Scotia

A Catholic relic with a long reach is making its second stop in Nova Scotia today as part of a cross-Canada tour.

Catholic relic is on cross-country tour organized by missionary group

People visiting the chapel at St. F.X. University in Antigonish had a chance to view the arm up close. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

A Catholic relic with a long reach is making its second stop in Nova Scotia today as part of a cross-country tour.

St. Francis Xavier's right arm is usually housed in a church in Rome, but is travelling across Canada as part of a tour organized by the university-based Catholic missionary group Catholic Christian Outreach.

The relic will be on display at the St. FX university chapel in Antigonish until this evening.

The right arm of St. Francis Xavier is on a cross-country tour organized by a Christian missionary group. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"He was a man for all seasons. He just seemed to be able to relate to everyone," said Angèle Regnier, co-founder of the outreach organization. "And his missionary heart never stopped in any of it, caring for people, loving people and actually sharing the faith."

The 'priestly' arm

As part of his missionary work with the Jesuits, Xavier travelled throughout Asia and died in China in 1552. His body was then taken to the Portuguese colony of Goa in India, where it is still occasionally on display.

"After his death, the Superior General of the Jesuits … said 'we want to be able to have something of Francis here [in Rome] as a founding member,' and so the decision was made to send the right arm."

St. Francis Xavier's right arm was chosen as a relic because it was used to elevated the eucharist, baptize converts and absolve sins in confession. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Regnier said the right arm was chosen because it was Xavier's "priestly arm," which elevated the eucharist, baptized thousands of converts and absolved sins in confession. 

"Relics generally that are venerated in the church are the size of a fingernail. To have one that looks like a hand and is the hand, this doesn't happen very often."

A rare opportunity

Fall River resident Sam Morris made the trip to St. Mary's Basilica in Halifax on Sunday with his wife for the first stop in the arm's journey through Nova Scotia.

People line up to see St. Francis Xavier's right arm, which was on display Monday at the St. FX university chapel in Antigonish. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"You don't often get the opportunity to be in the presence of a relic like we have today," said Morris. 

"[My wife and I] both have medical problems and we're praying for ourselves and for all of our family and for all their unknown ills that we don't know about, so that's the primary reason."

Today, the relic was in Antigonish. Iain Boyd, a resident of the town who works at St. Francis Xavier University, said seeing it was "quite spiritual and emotional."

"To have this opportunity to be in his presence today is quite moving," said Boyd. 

"When you think back to our founding and the sacrifices that the priests and sisters made to develop this university as it is today and to now have a relic of our patron saint to be present with us is very moving."

Iain Boyd, an Antigonish resident who works at St. Francis Xavier University, saw the relic on Monday. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Matthew Crowell, a student at the university, said his mother suggested he go see the relic while it's in Antigonish. 

"Just walking up there, I haven't been in front of something like this in a long time. But just being up here I just got a sense of peace and a little bit emotional," said Crowell, who grew up Catholic. "It was a very powerful feeling."

John Michael MacIsaac, another student, said this was his first time seeing a relic.

"It's an honour, I guess," said MacIsaac. "It was nice to hear the story, that they let them take it from Rome. I've never seen one before so it was different."

Matthew Crowell is a student at St. Francis Xavier University. (Mark Crosby/CBC)