Parishioners venerate ‘heart of a priest’

Father Anthony Chinh Ngo, pastor of St. John Vianney Church in South Louisville, carried the heart of St. John Vianney, a first-class relic, during the opening procession of a special Mass March 10. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Amid the glow of hundreds of tapered candles, the heart of St. Jean Vianney was carried in a solemn procession at the South Louisville parish that shares the saint’s name.

The relic was in Louisville for less than 24 hours March 10 and 11. It is on a tour of the U.S. until June courtesy of the Knights of Columbus.

At the evening Mass March 10, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said the occasion had an “extraordinary spirit of devotion.” He said the faithful gathered “in procession and in pilgrimage.”

“We know the symbol of love that is the heart of Jesus. We know that the hearts of the saints imitate that love of our Lord Jesus. And, we know as we draw close to the Lord, he invites us to embrace through his grace the same sacrificial love through our prayers and devotion,” he said.

The relic was available for veneration at St. John Vianney Church, 4839 Southside Drive, from 9 p.m. March 10 through 4 p.m. March 11. The saint’s heart was contained in a reliquary, a glass casing, making it visible to the faithful.

St. Jean Vianney lived in the 19th century in a small village in France. He was known for his compassion toward his parishioners and the extraordinary time he spent hearing confessions. He died in 1859 at the age of 73. He was canonized in 1925

by Pope Pius XI and later proclaimed the patron saint of parish priests. His feast day is Aug. 4.

In the Catholic tradition, a relic is an object associated with a saint that may be offered to people for veneration. It is meant to draw people closer to God, according to information from the Knights of Columbus. Neither relics nor saints are worshipped.

When St. Jean Vianney’s remains were moved 50 years after burial, it was found that his body and heart remained incorrupt or without decay. More than 150 years later, it still remains intact.

The tour of the relic has been dubbed the “Heart of a Priest,” which refers to the physical heart of Jean Vianney that has “resisted decay for more than 150 years and to the good character that should belong to every priest,” a news release from the Knights of Columbus said.

Archbishop Kurtz said the pilgrimage of the relic was a “call to all of us for repentance.”

“We know the season of Lent is an opportunity for us to repent of our sins, to go to confession to receive God’s forgiveness and to be renewed in our faith,” he said.

He said those gathered came together “to grow in holiness” and “join in veneration” of the relic.

“This is meant to be a time of renewal for each and every one of us. We ask through the intercession of St. Jean Vianney that through these Lenten days we become people of a deeper spirituality and love for Christ,” he said.

Father Anthony Chinh Ngo, pastor of St. John Vianney Church, said the parish prepared for the visit by holding a nine-day novena.

“We pray for our archbishop, diocesan priests and all priests as we deal with our human failings and with turbulence in our world and church today,” he said.

“There are so many good priests in our archdiocese and our world who dedicate their lives to serve the people,” he added. “Through this visit, we learn together, and we seek to be strenghthened and not lose heart.”

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