St John Vianney: England welcomes the heart of a saint

Bishop Mark Davies explains why he asked for the relic of the heart of the Curé d’Ars to make its first visit to England and says he hopes the faithful will be inspired by praying beside a heart that was consumed by the love of God:

In conversation with the Bishop of Belley-Ars last September I asked if it would ever be possible for the relic of the heart of the Curé of Ars to come to Britain. I was conscious that this relic of St John Vianney had recently been brought to Rome for the close of the Year for Priests at Pope Benedict’s request. I was also conscious of the recent visit to our country of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux and the prayer, the renewed desire for holiness and the many Confessions this visit had inspired.

Moreover, I was aware that for most of our Christian history the relics of the saints have created a kind of “spiritual geography” across this land from St Edward’s relics at Westminster to the relics of St Cuthbert at Durham. Great centres of prayer and pilgrimage were inspired by the relics of these saints, which had served the same purpose as those relics carried by the first missionaries to the English people. They awakened the hope of holiness and provided a visible, tangible reminder of the communion of saints.

If anyone thought this was simply part of our past then the remarkable scenes three years ago during the visit of St Thérèse’s relics pointed to the continuing need to be inspired by the saints in early 21st-century Britain. It should not, of course, surprise us that, just as the relics of the saints were part of the “first evangelisation” of these islands, so they might also have a role to play in their “new evangelisation”. It is in the saints that we always see the Church at her most authentic and it is within the communion of saints that we are always called to live the Christian life.

To my surprise, the Bishop of Belley-Ars immediately agreed. The bishop wanted to bring this relic of St John Vianney to the Diocese of Shrewsbury personally. My invitation had been to the Shrewsbury diocese, but I quickly became aware of a wider, national interest and thanks to the support of the Archbishops of Liverpool and Birmingham this four-day visit has become a national invitation to prayer.

Why, you might ask, should we turn for inspiration to a French saint of the 19th century? Surely, the life and times of the Curé of Ars are very far removed from our own. Yet if St Thérèse is recognised as “the best-loved” of modern saints, then we cannot fail to see in this humble parish priest – who has been raised up repeatedly in the sight of the Church by popes across the course of the past century – not only a saint for priests but a saint for us all.

I am asked what inspired this visit. Where did the idea come from? My answer has always been the same: it is Pope Benedict and his blessed predecessor Pope John Paul II who inspired me. They showed me we have much to learn in modern Britain from this “saint for priests” and this “saint for the renewal of parishes”. The body of St John Vianney is venerated in the parish church of Ars, which was the scene of his priestly ministry, but it is the heart of this saint which goes out from Ars on pilgrimage. This relic of a human heart takes us beyond physical anatomy to what lies at the very heart of this man who always spoke of his “poor self” yet recognised the greatness of his calling.

Among the first British visitors to meet the Curé of Ars was the plain-speaking Bishop of Birmingham, William Ullathorne. He met him during the summer of 1854 and his impressions of St John Vianney point us remarkably to the heart of this saint: “He spoke of God so good, so amiable, so loving and his hands, his shoulders, his very person seemed to gather on his heart,” Bishop Ullathorne wrote, “It was impossible not to feel God alone was there … Then there was a word about being in the Heart of Jesus, and in that word one felt he was THERE.”

So amid all the differences of time and place one of the first bishops of the newly restored English and Welsh Hierarchy points us to what is perennial about the saint of Ars: that the heart of this priest was always in the Heart of Jesus. I imagine it would have astonished St John Vianney that the simple phrase with which he often spoke of the Catholic priesthood would one day find its way into the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” (CCC 1589). It was our Holy Father Pope Benedict who remarked when venerating the relic of the heart of St John Vianney that here was a heart truly consumed by the love of God.

During four days from Thursday July 5 to Sunday July 8 this pilgrimage will invite many to reflect anew on what must always be at the heart of the Catholic priesthood, the heart of our parishes and the heart of all our vocations. It is my hope that the pilgrimage of this relic of the Curé of Ars will awaken in many hearts that same call to repentance and the universal call to holiness which he brought to so many during his lifetime. The “miracles” we can expect during these few days in England will be those same “miracles of grace” witnessed long ago in Ars when it must have seemed the whole world had found its way to that tiny place on earth. Manchester, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Northwich, Shrewsbury and Birmingham will be places where the influence of St John Vianney will be known by the visit of his relic during this first, historic visit to our country.

A threefold prayer will accompany these days: prayer and intercession for priests and the renewal of the Catholic priesthood; for the renewal of the life of our parishes; and for new and generous vocations to the priesthood. I am sure St John Vianney would not only approve of these intentions but will unite himself with us in this prayer. As Blessed John Paul II reflected: “Prayer was the soul of his life: silent and contemplative prayer, generally in his church at the foot of the tabernacle. Through Christ, his soul opened to the three divine Persons, to whom he would entrust ‘his poor soul’ in his last testament.” In such prayer we will be invited to join St John Vianney during these four days in July.

This article has been reproduced courtesy of the The Catholic Herald.


Thursday 5th July

Location: St Anthony’s, Woodhouse Park, Wythenshawe, Manchester M22 0WR

4.00-6:30 pm

Veneration of the Relic of the Curé d’Ars & Confessions

7.00-9.00 pm

Celebrating the gift of the Sacred Priesthood

Concelebrated Mass with Jubliarians. The Mass is a Ticket Event for clergy due to the limited number of seats for concelebrating priests.

9.00 – 10.00 pm

Veneration of the Relic resumes concluding with Compline.


Friday 6 th July

Location: Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool

A National Day: Praying for the Renewal of Parish Life & Vocations.

10.00 am

Morning Prayer & Homily

12.00 Noon

Concelebrated Mass

3.00 pm

Vespers & Homily

Confessions and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day.


Location: St Michael’s & All Angels, Woodchurch, Wirral CH43 5LE

6:00 – 9:00 pm

Veneration of the Relic, Confessions concluding with Compline 8.45 pm


Saturday 7th July

Location: St Wilfrid’s, Witton Street, Northwich Cheshire CW9 5NP

9:00-11:00 am

Morning Prayer, Veneration of the Relic and Confessions


Location: Shrewsbury Cathedral, Town Walls, Shrewsbury SY1 1TE


Mass and Veneration of the Relic and Confessions

Location: Oscott College, Chester Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands  B73 5AA


Invocation (National Vocations Festival)

This event is closed to the general public.


Sunday 8th July


Invocation (National Vocations Festival) Oscott – closed event.


Location: Oscott College


Veneration of the Relic and Vespers for people of Birmingham

This venue will be open to the General Public at 2:00 pm


Monday 9th July

The Relic of the heart of the Curé d’Ars returns to Ars

Please note all events are open to the public unless specifically stated as a Closed Event

For further information and to print off a pdf of the schedule go to:

This entry was posted in Bishop Mark Davies, Devotion, Relics, Vocations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to St John Vianney: England welcomes the heart of a saint

  1. Toadspittle says:

    Two of the most endearing ( out of many) aspects of Catholics are:

    1: Their jackdaw-like fascination for glittering obects (bling) like massive gold rings and big gold crosses, and embroidery and lace ( on bishops cardinals, and popes, to be sure.)

    2: Their Frankenstein-like fascination with body parts of dead people (The longer dead the better, it seems: viz, The Foreskin of Christ, The Finger of Saint Teresa.)

    It’s what makes Catholics so special!We wouldn’t have it any other way!


  2. Toadspittle says:

    Have anyone’s tesicles ever been venerated?

    Seems no reason why not…


  3. kathleen says:

    If you read Bishop Mark Davies’s explanation more closely – and his pastoral letter on today’s posting – you will see there is really nothing morbid (or Frankenstein-ish… eek!) about the veneration of saints’ remains. Bishop Davies says: “This relic of a human heart takes us beyond physical anatomy to what lies at the very heart of this man [St. John Vianney] who always spoke of his “poor self” yet recognised the greatness of his calling.”

    The veneration of relics of the saints is found in the earliest history of the Church. Even as early as in the Acts of the Apostles we can read: “Meanwhile, God worked extraordinary miracles at the hands of Paul. When handkerchiefs or cloths which had touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them.” (Acts 19:11-12)
    God’s work, which was fulfilled through the lives of holy men and women during their earthly lifetimes, drawing countless people closer to God, can continue to do so long after their deaths by the veneration of their relics.

    From an article by Fr. William Saunders:
    A letter written by the faithful of the Church in Smyrna in the year 156 provides an account of the death of St. Polycarp, their bishop, who was burned at the stake. The letter reads, “We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together as we are able, in gladness and joy, and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.” Essentially, the relics—the bones and other remains of St. Polycarp—were buried and the tomb itself was the “reliquary.” Other accounts attest that the faithful visited the burial places of the saints and miracles occurred……
    The Church strived to keep the use of relics in perspective. In his Letter to Riparius, St. Jerome (d. 420) wrote in defense of relics: “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are


  4. Toadspittle says:

    Kathleen, I take your point about “relics” of people we greatly admire.
    I would love, for example, to own, and venerate, a copy of Alice that had once belonged to Lewis Carroll, or even a pair of Bertrand Russell’s underpants.

    But venerating a toe, or an ear, let alone a kidney or appendix- of either great man is another thing.
    Or so he thinks. Of course, he might be wrong.


  5. Roger says:

    I missed this. The Cure fortold the Conversion of England. Relics are included in the consecrated altars. the Relics of the saints are because the Church tells Us that the Holy Ghost dwelt in the sanctified. The saint is the dwelling house of God. Not about worldly goodness Oh NO! Its that Our Lord dwelt in that soul and sanctified it NOT I BUT CHRIST!
    Miracles are attached to relics and there are plenty of examples of incorrupt bodies of the saints. England before the madness of the Reformation had very many incorrupt bodies of saints and martyrs.
    It isn’t about the object its the proven sanctification of that body/relic. Relics in the church especially of the holy early martyrs were the seed of the Faith. As for Great Man that’s a curious word because there is a distinction from the worldly who ends up in Hell and the humble who ends up in Heaven.
    Remember what matters in Eternity is Gods perspective NOT Man’s. This is the Faith.


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