CATHOLICS in Tamworth had a very special visitor on Sunday at St Nicholas’ Church, with the forearm of St Francis Xavier making a flying visit.
The forearm of the saint had been preserved since he was beatified 460 years ago and is normally housed in a basilica in Rome, but has been visiting Australia since September 20 and left Tamworth after the 7am mass on Monday.
The forearm came to be preserved when he was found to not be decomposed even months after his death and miracles were associated with the saint’s bodily presence.
When the body arrived in Malacca, the plague, which had been raging there, abruptly ceased, and when the body was taken to the church, the blind were given sight and the sick were healed.
After nine months, the body was moved to Goa, India, the scene of Xavier’s original and highly successful missionary work. It remains there to this day, in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Every 10 years his body is exposed for veneration, and in 2005, more than two million people honoured him.
In 1614, the Superior General of the Jesuits arranged for the right forearm to be detached so that this significant relic could be an object of devotion in the Church of Gesu, the principal church of the Jesuits in Rome. This relic has only been removed from the Gesu on four other occasions, and so we are very blessed to have this opportunity in Australia for the Year of Grace.
This is the arm with which he baptised and blessed thousands of people.
The relic’s visit is part of the Year of Grace. St Francis Xavier’s relic was chosen as he was, until 1976, the co-patron saint of Australia as a missionary territory.
Father Richard Shortall SJ, also a Jesuit priest, is travelling with the relic around Australia, presenting at Catholic churches in each diocese that registered interest in having the relic visit.
“Each diocese was given the opportunity to have the relic visit and Tamworth put its hand up,” he said.
“It is very special and a very rare opportunity for Tamworth.”
During prayers at St Nicholas’ on Sunday afternoon devotees lined up to touch the relic (in its protective case), demonstrating how revered the relic is.
At mass that night, Father Shortall SJ was the celebrant. The relic travelled to Narrabri and Moree on Monday then Glen Innes via Inverell on Tuesday and has now moved onto the Lismore diocese.