Relic from Rome sparks quiet conversations at Cathedral of St. Paul

| May 23, 2012 | 0 Comments

People kneel at the Communion rail in the Cathedral of St. Paul to pray and view the stone relic from the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Parishioners and visitors to the Cathedral of St. Paul were pleased with the opportunity they had May 20 to venerate a recently obtained relic from the tomb of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

The stone relic, about the size of a brick, was on view in a glass-topped box, situated near the lectern, on the steps behind the Communion rail. Between the Sunday Masses, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., people lined up to kneel and pray and get a close look at this piece of history. This was the only day it was to be displayed until a permanent place for viewing it is created.

Father Joseph Johnson, Cathedral rector, said, “This is a stone removed from the tomb of the Apostle Paul, after which our city and cathedral are named and who is the patron of our archdiocese.”

More important than the physical rock — “placed there by Pope Leo the Great or St. Gregory the Great a thousand years before Columbus set sail for the new world” — is the spiritual bond that it represents, said Father Johnson.

The designation by the Vatican of the new relic, along with the designation in 2009 of the Cathedral of St. Paul as a national shrine of the Apostle St. Paul, means that pilgrims who visit the Cathedral of St. Paul receive all the same graces as if they made a pilgrimage to Rome to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, he explained.

While Father Johnson was traveling back to St. Paul with the relic, literally in his hands, he couldn’t help but chuckle to himself.

“I remembered when the Minnesota Science Museum had their Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit — how they transferred the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was like what you see in a movie — a briefcase handcuffed to somebody, and police guards escorting it to the plane, and the briefcase had its own seat in first class,” he said. “I chuckle because it was just me with this relic and not at all like that.”

Having the opportunity to see and pray with a relic was an extra gift for several visitors, such as Michele and Dan Goodwin, who were visiting the area from Vancouver, Canada, where they attend St. Anthony parish.

Another couple from California made a trip from Rochester’s Mayo Clinic to see the cathedral and were pleased with the one-day display of the relic.

Christine Ertl, who just graduated from the University of St. Thomas, brought her brother, Brad, to the 10 a.m. Mass and was happy to hear the announcement about the relic.

“I studied abroad in Rome this past fall so I was at St. Paul Outside the Walls,” Ertl said. “To have it in the archdiocese when so many beautiful things are happening and so many wonderful seminarians are coming through and offering their life for the priesthood, it’s a beautiful model for what the Lord is doing in this archdiocese.”

Although impressed by the relic, Ertl’s brother was even more impressed to see the Cathedral of St. Paul, which he heard was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica.

“In the class, my teacher talked about St. Peter’s Basilica and how it is 400 feet tall and the altar was 100 feet tall,” he said. “After seeing pictures of that and how this is supposed to be modeled after that, it’s pretty cool.”

Cathedral parishioners Jean Lown and Barbara Dries stopped to pray by the new relic and talk about its significance.

“It illustrates that we do have a close connection to St. Paul, and I think it’s a blessing that the Vatican has recognized the importance of this national shrine and given this gift to honor that,” Lown said.

“We’ve talked about the fact that St. Paul doesn’t have a strong presence in this building,” she said. “There are chapels to many other saints, but no chapels set aside for St. Paul. So having this is special.”

Dries said that Father Johnson often speaks about the patron of the cathedral, although his name and the connection to Rome is sometimes forgotten.

“Having this rock intensifies that unity in a magnificent way,” Dries said. “This is the beginning of a very intense connection with St. Paul Outside the Walls and Rome.”

Both women said they believe it is only a matter of time before this new relic has a special place of honor in the church.

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