Why the arrival of the arm of St. Francis Xavier in Toronto strikes chord with young Catholics

The forearm of St. Francis Xavier is halfway through a month-long tour of Canada, on loan from its usual resting place at Rome's Church of the Gesu.

465-year-old forearm is touring Canada during month of January

D'Arcy Murphy, left, a 19-year-old University of Ottawa student, is the guardian of the relic, responsible for carrying and travelling with the arm encased in glass. (Pierre-Paul Couture/Radio-Canada)

Ryerson University student Chris Fernandes knows it might seem a little odd: thousands of Catholics, flocking to spend a moment with a mottled, dark brown forearm in a glass case.

"Relics are weird," he said with a laugh. "Because they are this part or piece of someone."

But for the 22-year-old Catholic, the arrival of a piece of St. Francis Xavier in Canada represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the arm of the man who may be responsible for his faith.

"I come from an Indian background, my ancestors are from Goa," he told CBC Toronto."St. Francis baptized a lot of people in Goa, so he most likely would have baptized my ancestors." 
'It’s really special to me,' says Ryerson student Chris Fernandes, 22. (Submitted by Chris Fernandes)

The forearm of St. Francis Xavier — the patron saint of Catholic missions — is halfway through a month-long tour of Canada, on loan from its usual resting place at Rome's Church of the Gesu. Beginning Friday, it will spend three days being displayed at different churches in the GTA.

Saint started out as 'party guy' 

There's another reason why the saint's life story hits home with Fernandes: St. Francis Xavier only discovered his faith as a young man, while attending university in Paris in the 1520s.

"I grew up in a Catholic family but I never really discovered why I believe what I believe as a Catholic until I got into university, and I think that was something along the lines of St. Francis because he was a bit of playboy in university himself," said Fernandes with another chuckle.

"He was a bit of a party guy," explained Ben Turland, a campus leader for Catholic Christian Outreach at Ryerson University. "He came to know the Lord and started to love his faith and became a priest and became a missionary." 
Ben Turland's son, named for St. Francis Xavier, was born on Jan. 3. (Submitted by Ben Turland)

Turland had a son last week, and named him, fittingly, Xavier. He'll bring the newborn to see the arm while it's in Toronto this weekend.

Catholic Christian Outreach, an organization founded to keep young Catholics engaged with their faith, helped organize the relic's tour. Turland says it's a special honour given the nature of the relic itself.

"There's a lot of relics of saints and there aren't that many of this size," he said. "And the fact [is] that it's incorrupt, so it doesn't experience natural decay."

Catholics and non-Catholics alike are encouraged to visit — and D'Arcy Murphy says both have been coming in droves. 

The 19-year-old University of Ottawa student took the semester off to serve as the guardian to the arm, carrying it carefully into churches and travelling with it on airplanes (the relic gets its own seat).

D'Arcy Murphy says he decided to take a semester off to accompany the relic because he felt a calling to do so. (Archdiocese of Toronto)

"We've seen a lot of young people, not only who are faithful already, but they're bringing their classmates and they're bringing their friends," he said.