Local students were in the presence of a saint recently.
Pupils of several Catholic schools converged at St. Benedict Church in north Etobicoke Tuesday, Oct. 5, where the relics of St. John Bosco arrived the night previous.
A wax replica of the patron of youth, a Catholic priest who dedicated his life to educating young people, is encased in an urn made of a glass box atop a wood and metal cart. It was trucked into the city from Chicago the night before, and a crane was needed to get the more than 800-kilogram urn into the church.
"With the help of the Knights of Columbus we were able to lift it into the sanctuary," said Father George Harkins, director of the Salesian Community of Toronto, who was at the church Oct. 5 to greet visitors.
While Bosco's body mostly disintegrated from contact with the air when his tomb was opened in 1929 in preparation for him to become a saint, the bones survived, with most of the skeleton in Turin, Italy, explained Harkins. "Not everyone can go to Turin, so we'll send Don (an Italian term of respect) Bosco to the people," he said.
The bones and tissues of the saint's right hand and arm are within the replica.
"It's very symbolic that it be his right hand; he blessed people with his right hand, he wrote with his right hand ... forgave sinners through his right hand and he was also a tailor, a carpenter, a magician, he was many, many things to many people," said Harkins.
Schools were invited to see the relic throughout the day, with a mass in honour of Bosco scheduled later that evening.
During the visit students delivered 'petitions' to the saint; for Bosco to pray for their families, to give hope to children fighting for freedom, and for just being a good role model.
The relic has already travelled through South America, Central America, and the U.S., noted Harkins. "But certain cities were chosen, they couldn't choose every city," he explained. "Financially, each place (that receives the relic) has to pay ... to make the pilgrimage a success. So we take care of it at a local level."
Susan Almonte, a teacher with Mary, Mother of God school in Parkdale, called the event a "once-in-a-lifetime" chance for those in attendance.
"We have a real devotion to St. John Bosco," she said. "Our teachers are trained in his philosophy of education."
Harkins confirmed the relic would only be at the church for one day on its worldwide pilgrimage. The following day it was headed to Montreal, then to Surrey, British Columbia, then to Asia, he said.
Lourdes Narciso, a Grade 8 student at Holy Child Catholic School in north Etobicoke, was impressed by the replica.
"I think it was really great to see a saint and a relic, it looked real," she said, noting her school had prepared for the day.
The relic's journey began on Jan. 31, 2009, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salesian Congregation. "It prepares us for the 2015 celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Don Bosco's birth near Turin, Italy on Aug. 16, 1815," reads the official website of the pilgrimage, donboscoamongus.org