St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of charity, was known for having a big heart, and now a little piece of it -- literally -- will be on display for Beaufort County residents Feb. 11 at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Beaufort.
The Treasures of the Church traveling exhibit of sacred relics also will include what the Catholic church believes to be a swatch from Mary's veil, a shard from the cross Jesus was crucified on and actual tissue from St. Vincent de Paul's heart.
Relics are tangible items directly associated with a saint or with Jesus and include fragments of the body, such as flesh, bone or skin, or something a saint owned or touched.
The Treasures of the Church exhibit cites Scriptures stating that God acts through relics, particularly spiritual and physical healing.
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The book of Matthew in the New Testament tells of a hemorrhaging woman who was healed by touching Jesus' cloak; the book of Acts in the Old Testament tells of evil spirits being driven out of those who had been touched by the handkerchiefs of the apostle Paul.
The exposition, which has traveled to 38 states, will feature more than 150 relics of saints. The display opens to the public at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 and moves on the Savannah the next day. This is its only stop in South Carolina.
Believers and non-believers are said to visit the exhibition for numerous reasons.
"Some have faith; some don't. Some come because they can't believe there's a medievalist running around with human bones. Some come because they're into antiques," said the Rev. Carlos Martins of Companions of the Cross, a Roman Catholic community of priests based in Houston. "My job is to speak to everyone who is there."
Martins is curator of relics for the Catholic church, which has allowed him to acquire the items he travels with. He refers to what people experience through interactions with the relics as a "dialogue of the heart," between the person and God.
"My job is to heal people's faith. Then, it's God's work," he said.
Ridgeland residents Don and Anne Brown contacted Martins a year ago after their friends in St. Louis said they enjoyed the exhibit. The Browns also are involved in the charismatic healing group at St. Peter's, which prays for others' healing.
Martins said the relics also help foster a relationship between people and saints, acting as means of intercession with God. While people are encouraged to bring pictures to the exhibit of family members or friends who need healing, Martins says the relics are not magic.
"This is not a super crystal that you touch and are all better," Martins said. "Fundamentally, there has to be a relationship with God and the saint. It is that relationship, that communion, that opens that person up to whatever God wants to do to them. There are healings at every exposition, though some are not the ones that people have asked for, but another that God himself chooses."
Relics are acquired after canonization, when the Catholic church declares a deceased person a saint. With the permission of the family, the body is turned over to the church, the tomb is opened and a portion of the body is removed to be distributed and displayed.
The relics also are used as a way for people to be inspired by the lives of the saints.
"Folks can relate to the lives of these saints," Don Brown said. "They, too, struggled with the difficulties of life, with sin, but each in their own special way learned to love God and live out the gospel message of Jesus Christ in their individual lives."
Some have experienced a physical healing in the presence of these relics, some spiritual healings and some nothing at all. Martins said he only knows what happens to those encountering the relics by what is reported back to him.
The exposition will begin with a multimedia presentation on the relics. The Rev. Casmir Maduakor of St. Peter's will hold his second healing Mass afterward; the first was held in December. Prayer request cards will be passed out at the Mass, in which people can submit a request for prayers for themselves or for others, and the charismatic prayer group will pray for them.
"Folks everywhere are struggling physically, temporarily and spiritually, and truly need to have such a sacred ministry available to them," Brown said.