by Margo C. Pope
A first-class relic of Saint Augustine of Hippo heads home to the Vatican Treasury this week after its first trip ever to the United States.
The relic, a knucklebone of Augustine who died in 430 A.D., brought hundreds weekly over three months to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Cathedral Parish and this city.
“Having the relic was a great blessing − I don’t know another word to describe what we experienced the past three months,” said Father Thomas S. Willis, rector. Opportunities to venerate the relic and hear the teachings on Saint Augustine “touched souls in ways that we may never fully know.” More than 200 people attended each of the weekly “Wednesdays with Augustine” where the lines for veneration after each service lasted 30 to 45 minutes. “It seems to me that we saw just how active God is in our world today!”
Father Willis estimated 250 people attended the closing Mass Sept. 28. Father Sal Di Fazio, homilist and pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church, Jacksonville, explained how his relationship evolved with Saint Augustine.
During his first year at Pope St. John XXIII Seminary a bishop “shared with us something that has always remained with me, not knowing in the beginning where it came from. The three points he shared with us…were: ‘Number 1. To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances. To seek him, the greatest adventure. Thirdly, to find him, the greatest of human achievement.’” He learned later those were Saint Augustine’s words.
His academic advisor later suggested that he take a class on Saint Augustine. “Saint Augustine opened my heart, my mind, and my belief in that Jesus, in that Christ, in that God called me,” he said.
Saint Augustine shared some similarities with Saint Paul, he said. Paul persecuted Christians before his conversion. Augustine’s mother, Saint Monica, prayed for 33 years before his conversion. Through God’s mercy, they allowed the Holy Spirit to change them. “If we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, marvelous achievements can be done. But if not, nothing will happen,” he said.
Reflecting on the relic’s impact, Bishop Felipe Estévez said, “Having the relic for the 450th anniversary helped the theme that the Catholic community chose for this amazing year, Augustin as the catalyst of a city built on the rock of faith. Hundreds of pilgrims learned about Augustin’s rich teachings thanks to this veneration that brought them to Church. … By praying and experiencing God’s presence we are strengthened to keep alive the City of God we hope to live in eternally.”
Cathedral Parish will build on the relic’s visit with “The Mystery of God: Who God Is and Why He Matters,” a six-part video series by Bishop Robert Barron. “So much of Saint Augustine’s writings are about encountering the Mystery that is God – who He is, how you and I can encounter Him, and what all this means. I think we saw in the visit of the relic that, yes, God matters,” Father Willis said.
The series begins Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. and continues on Wednesdays through Nov. 11, at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church, 86 M.L. King Avenue in St. Augustine.