Faithful Catholics visited Our Lady of Grace parish in Hempfield Wednesday for a glimpse at a rare relic — the heart of a saint.
The “incorruptible” heart of St. John Vianney, preserved for 160 years, is traveling the United States in a case made of gold and glass.
“It’s really a blessing and also a privilege for us to be able to welcome the relic here, particularly during Holy Week,” said the Rev. Larry Kulick.
The heart usually resides in Ars, France. It’s on loan to the Knights of Columbus, who are taking it around the United States as a “spiritual response” to the ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal.
Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests, and his incorruptible heart is a symbol of the incorruptibility of the priesthood, said Eric Johnson, regional growth director for the Knights of Columbus.
“The priests that have been following the laws of the church, the priests who have been doing the right thing, we want them to understand that we’re behind them, we will help them, and we’re praying for them.”
Sharon Serratore of Mt. Lebanon was driving in Westmoreland County when she heard about the heart on the radio, and decided she needed to stop and see it for herself.
“Especially now, it’s so deeply profound,” she said. “Prayers for our priests, prayers of intercession, are so necessary and so powerful.”
Vianney is known for inspiring faith in thousands of French parishioner in the 1800s, as the nation did away with the many anti-Catholic laws and attitudes established during the French Revolution.
For many people, the relic is a symbol of their hope for the church, Johnson said.
“A lot of people have a deep devotion, and they want to see the Catholic Church survive. They want to see the Catholic Church thrive,” he said.
The heart represents many things, Kulick said.
“(It) not only represents the part of him physically that gave him life, but it’s also a great symbol of that spiritual life that God gives us through our baptism, and also it’s a priestly heart, a passionate heart.”
The heart’s arrival was marked by Bishop Edward C. Malesic giving an opening mass Wednesday morning, followed by a day of confessions and prayer at Our Lady of Grace Parish.
It will finish a U.S. tour and return to France in June.