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Mary Magdalene relic draws the faithful to Yorkville

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Updated: April 13, 2013 6:14AM

It would be hard to deny the excitement that filled St. Patrick Church in Yorkville, as more than 200 of the area’s faithful — from toddlers sucking on pacifiers to seniors leaning on walkers — gathered early Monday to view what is believed to be the tibia of St. Mary Magdalene.

The fact this 9-inch relic — on a month-long tour of the Midwest — arrived a little behind schedule only added to the anticipation that seemed to grow, along with the crowd.

Their reasons for coming to this viewing echoed a similar theme: Mary Magdalene, the venerated sinner-turned-saint, represents what their own journey of faith is all about

“She is a symbol of strength, of courage,” said John Intrain, a member of St. Peter Church in Aurora.

She represents humility and forgiveness as “one of Christ’s first converts,” noted St. Patrick parishioner Michele Gonzales. “In this Year of Faith, that is especially important.”

Greg Meyers of Aurora’s Holy Angels Parish described the veneration as a perfect “time for reflection,” And several others pointed out the relic is an incredible reminder that all the saints were flesh and bone, just like the rest of us.

By the time the relic — enclosed in a glass- and gold-trimmed case — arrived at the church, a hush had already settled over the crowd, thanks to a litany of prayers led by St. Patrick Pastor Matthew Lamoureux. Tears filled the eyes of some as the relic was wheeled through the narthex. Hands came together in prayer. Camera phones sprang into action.

A few fell to their knees.

After the Knights of Columbus color guard led the candlelight procession into the church, and the relic was placed at the altar, Lamoureux led the Mass. But the homily was given by James Devine, a young Irish deacon from the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in France, whose emotional sermon had some in tears again as he compared the four defining moments in the saint’s life with those taking part in the Mass.

After the service, worshippers had the opportunity to touch the case and pray before the relic.

Robert Skidmore, grand knight for the St. Patrick’s Knights of Columbus, was almost at a loss for words. “It’s hard to describe the feeling” of looking down upon the relic, he said. “Exciting ... really exciting.”

Later, he and others noted the unique timing of the tour, as all eyes are on the church with the conclave of cardinals gathered in Rome to chose a new pope. Others noted that, in the middle of the Lenten season, when believers are called to sacrifice, what an honor it was to look upon the remains of the woman who sat at the feet of Jesus, who wept beneath his cross, who witnessed his resurrection — and who was persecuted for her unyielding faith.

Tradition has it that Mary Magdalene was imprisoned after the crucifixion, then she and other followers were cast out to sea with no mast or supplies. They landed near Marseille on the coast of Frances, where, for the next 30 years, she converted many to Christianity, before living out her final years in prayerful seclusion in a mountain cave known as La Sainte-Baume.

A letter of authenticity from French Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon reports that relics of the saint were hidden at the time of the Saracen invasions. In 1279, they were rediscovered in a chapel crypt in the town of St. Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.

The saint’s entire skeleton, including this shin bone, was found in a tomb in St. Maximin, France.

After the Mass at St. Patrick, the relic traveled to Plano, where St. Mary’s Church students and parishioners were able to view it. It returned to St. Patrick’s for more devotions that included an evening presentation by Devine. The relic, which had also been at SS Peter and Paul in Naperville on Friday, will visit 36 churches in 31 days as part of this Midwest tour.

For St. Patrick’s parishioner Naomi Swoboda, who was at the church with her 2-year-old son Adam, this veneration was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” marked by “grace ...and blessings.”

Her mother Mary Evans agreed. The Fort Worth woman had chosen this visit to her daughter in Yorkville so she could take part in this sacred event. After all the negative publicity the church has received, she said, “This is the voice of the Catholic Church.”

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