KLANG, Feb 9 — Thousands of Catholics made their way to Our Lady of Lourdes Church to perform their pilgrimage for its Feast Day and witness a rare occasion — the placing of a relic in the church’s altar.
A relic, which comes from the Latin word reliquiae (remains), is a piece of the body of a saint, an item owned or used by the saint, or an object which has been touched to the tomb of a saint.
“This is considered a rare occasion because there is only one altar in a church, which means one does not get to see this occasion very often,” pastoral assistant Ashley Chau said on Saturday on behalf of parish priest Fr Rev Michael Chua Kim Wah.
Chau said the first-class relic of Saint Maria Goretti was difficult to obtain.
“It took us close to a year,” he said. “The altar was consecrated in 2013 but the church obtained the relic only now.”
There are three classes of sacred relics.
The first class is a part of the saint’s body, the second class is a piece of the saint’s clothing or something used by the saint and the third class an object which has been touched to a first-class relic.
Chau said there was no specific character or criteria when choosing a relic but usually the relic of a saint or martyr was chosen.
“Maria was a martyr and this is why the priest is dressed in red, as the colour symbolises martyrdom.”
Chau said the placing of the relic was an ancient practice where altars were built on the burial grounds of martyrs and other saints.
“It was common practice for the altar to be built on the catacomb (an underground cemetery).”
He said in today’s world, a relic was placed beneath the altar as a mark of respect to the saint.
The placing of the relic in the altar was witnessed by about 1,300 people during the mass by the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Most Reverend Julian Leow.
Saint Maria Goretti, the patron saint for rape victims, purity, youth and forgiveness, was an Italian saint who died at the age of 12 in 1902 after being stabbed by a neighbour, who was 19 at that time.
It is said the teenager was imprisoned for 30 years and one day, Maria appeared to him in a dream where she extended a flower to him. Years later, when he was released from prison, the boy joined the Franciscan movement as a lay brother.
She forgave her assailant before she died.