The relic of the heart of St John Vianney arrived into Manchester Airport on 5 July and was then taken to Wythenshawe, near Manchester, on the first stage of its first ever tour on British soil, where it was venerated by more than 2,000 people.
A National Day of Prayer was held between 10am and 4pm in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
On Saturday 7 July, the relic will be venerated at St Wilfrid’s Church, Northwich, Cheshire, before being taken to Shrewsbury Cathedral. Later in the day the relic will be taken to the Invocation Annual National Vocations Conference in Birmingham.
The vocations event, which this year will focus in a particular way on the priesthood and its role in the life of the Church, is being held at St Mary’s College, Oscott, from 6-8 July and the relic will be present at the festival from Saturday evening.
The relic has been brought to England at the invitation of Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and is accompanied by the Rt Rev Guy Bagnard, Bishop Emeritus of Belley-Ars, France, with a priest of the Ars Diocese. It will return to France on Monday 9 July.
St John Mary Baptist Vianney was canonised in 1925 by Pope Pius XI who four years later also made him the principal patron saint of parish priests.This was in recognition of the outstanding holiness of the French parish priest who, until his death on 4 August 1859, had served for 40 years in the small town of Ars-en-Dombes and who even in his own lifetime was regarded by many as a saint.
St John was born in Dardilly, near Lyons, on 8 May 1786 and grew up on his father’s farm. From childhood he was conscious of a vocation to the priesthood but it was not until he was 20 that he was allowed to leave his work at the family home to study at a presbytery school in the nearby village of Ecully.
In 1809 he was conscripted into Napoleon’s army but was classified as a deserter the next year as he was about to be deployed to Spain (he had missed his detachment through ill health). An amnesty for defaulters declared by the Emperor in 1810 enabled him to return home a free man.
St John returned to his studies but he struggled with Latin and some academic subjects. His tutors saw, however, that his keen grasp of moral theology was deeply informed by his own exemplary life of virtue and austerity, with one describing him as “the most unlearned but the most devout of seminarians in Lyon”. He was accepted for the priesthood and was ordained in August 1815, some two months after the Battle of Waterloo.
In 1817 he took up his post in Ars, then a village of just 230 people. There, he exhorted the villagers to abandon their lives of petty vice and religious indifference and to seek holiness instead. He also opened parochial missions, a school and a shelter for orphans and abandoned children.
St John’s reputation for holiness spread and pilgrims began to travel to Ars from all over France so he could hear their confessions. Between 1830 and 1845 there was an average of 300 visitors a day, with the saint spending 11 or 12 hours in the confessional during the winter months and up to 16 hours a day in summer. In the final year of his life 100,000 pilgrims visited him.
St John was invested with immeasurable spiritual gifts, including healing, prophesy, and an ability to “read souls” whereby he exhibited a supernatural understanding of people’s lives and circumstances without having previously met them.
When he received the final sacraments of the Church, at the age of 73, he was joined by no less than 20 priests. A total of 300 priests and 6,000 faithful attended his funeral. His feast day is celebrated on 8 August.In honour of the 150th anniversary of St John’s death Pope Benedict XVI opened a Year for Priests that ran from the feast of the Sacred Heart on 16 June 2009 to the following summer.
The saint’s heart was taken to the Vatican for the opening ceremony and carried in procession through St Peter’s Basilica.During the event, Pope Benedict paused to pray before heart, encased in a glass and gold reliquary. The Holy Father said that the heart was “burning with divine love” which priests ought to imitate if they were to be effective ministers.
The Diocese of Shrewsbury covers the parts of Merseyside south of the River Mersey, the southern parts of Greater Manchester, parts of Derbyshire, almost all of the county of Cheshire and all of Shropshire.
Keep in touch with the tour on the diocesan website: dioceseofshrewsbury.org
The full programme of the St John Vianney events is online and you can also find various writings, a biography and teaching resources.
Pictures can be found on our Bishops’ Conference Flickr photostream
For the latest on the St John Vianney tour, follow Shrewsbury on twitter
Please contact Simon Caldwell, communications officer for the Diocese of Shrewsbury: