Saint’s heart draws hundreds closer to God

.- Hundreds of people filed into Curé of Ars Parish in Merrick, N.Y., Saturday to pray before the uncorrupted heart of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests and of the parish.

People waited patiently for about 40 minutes before being able to venerate the relic in two lines that stretched from the altar of the small church to the sidewalk outside, reported the New York Times.

One after another, worshipers quietly knelt before the 220-year-old heart of the French saint, which was enclosed in a red and gold glass case beneath the altar. Afterward, worshipers formed other lines as they waited to go to confession.

According to the New York Times, people of all ages came to venerate the relic and to ask for graces for themselves and for the local Church. For some, seeing the miracle of the uncorrupted heart brought them closer to God. Others said it was like being in the presence of the saint.

This is the first time the relic has been outside France, except for the saint’s canonization more than 80 years ago.  

According to the Times, Fr. Charles Mangano, pastor of Curé of Ars Parish, attended a retreat in France in September 2005. One day during lunch, Fr. Thomas Devery of Staten Island suggested to Fr. Mangano that he ask to have the saint’s heart at his parish.

To his surprise, the request was granted. Bishop Guy Bagnard of Belley-Ars in France arrived in New York Friday with the heart and the saint’s chalice.

The relic will be displayed for the public on Tuesday and Wednesday. Yesterday, it was available only to parishioners, who celebrated the parish’s 80th anniversary.  Today, the relic was reserved for clergy and seminarians.

Bishop Bagnard will travel with the relic to the Archdiocese of Boston next, before returning to France.

St. John Vianney was ordained a priest in 1815. He was assigned to the remote parish of Ars. Though considered by some to be a terrible assignment, the pious priest took his new pastoral charge to heart. He grew close to the people and became known for his patience as a confessor. His reputation as a confessor grew and he was believed to have the gift of reading hearts. During the last 10 years of his life, he spent up to 18 hours a day listening to confessions as thousands of people came to him from around the world. He died in 1859.

When his body was exhumed in 1904, it had not yet decomposed, and his intact heart was removed from his body. Both his heart and his body, which have not been treated with any chemicals, are kept on display in Ars for veneration.

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