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For visitors to the Jesuit Church of the Gesu in Rome, one striking feature is a side chapel dedicated to a peculiar relic of St. Francis Xavier: his hand. To be more specific it is his right forearm and hand, and it’s been there for centuries.
Why of all relics to display did the Jesuits choose Xavier’s hand?
After joining Ignatius of Loyola in his new religious order called the Society of Jesus, Xavier was entrusted with the task of sailing East. He left Rome in 1540 and traveled to various places in Asia, such as China and Japan. Everywhere he went Xavier was met with countless souls who’d never heard of Jesus.
Not having a gift for languages, Xavier was able to preach the gospel through interpreters and his humble character. Miracles of healing also accompanied Xavier when traveling to the villages and this made him a popular figure.
Xavier was crowded by throngs of souls wanting to be healed as well as saved through the waters of Baptism. Throughout his life records report that Xavier’s hand baptized more than 700,000 souls. The frequency was such, according to an account he later gave, “sometimes, by the bare fatigue of administering that sacrament, he was scarce able to move his arm.”
After Xavier died on his missionary journey, the Jesuits brought back to Rome a relic for the veneration of the faithful. The Superior General at the time chose the right forearm and hand of Xavier, the same hand that baptized all those who came to him.
While it may seem strange to hold on to such a relic, it is a reminder of how each of us is an instrument of God. We may not be called to be a missionary in Asia baptizing thousands of souls, but God still uses our hands to bring his love to other people. It could be a gentle touch or a heartfelt hug; whatever it is, we are God’s instrument and our hands can bring his presence to others.
And, as we reported here, this relic will be on tour in North America starting in January.
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