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Relic Display Highlights Religious Freedom Issue

10/27/2016 | Comments

DENVER – Benedictine College theology student Mary Carroll had a particular conversation in mind she as she prayed before a relic of St. Thomas More -- one of the two saints whose relics were on a rare tour of the U.S. recently as part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom.

If she could talk to St. Thomas More, the teenager said, “I would tell him his patronage is especially important right now because we’re facing difficulties with religious liberties. The fact that he stood up to the king and said, ‘I am your servant but I’m God’s first’ is important for the American people to remember right now.”

Carroll, 19, said that she has a special, long-standing relationship with the English saint.

“St. Thomas More is my confirmation saint and he’s the patron saint of adopted children. Because I am adopted, he means a lot,” she said.

The jawbone relic of St. Thomas More and a ring of St. John Fisher stopped at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception June 29 while on tour of the U.S. to 16 cities. The tour came about after the USCCB requested the relics of the two British saints from Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, which is in Northern England. The college is the oldest surviving Jesuit school in the world and is home to a collection of roughly 1,500 relics.

“It’s been very moving to see so many people come,” said Joe Reed, assistant curator of the collection. “It’s so unusual for an offer and a request like this to come about. This has only happened through another bishop’s work, really.”

Each relic which was kept behind bulletproof glass the entire trip, Reed said.

St. John Fisher was a scholar, a chancellor at Cambridge University and Bishop of Rochester. He actively opposed the divorce of a king and was quickly beheaded.

St. Thomas More was a highly-educated lawyer and advisor to the king, whom he fell out of favor with upon refusing to sign the king’s annulment and break from the Church in Rome. He was also martyred.

Mark and Alyssa Hirsch, who converted to Catholicism two years ago and are members of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Loveland, were among those who traveled to see the relics.

“I would have to say martyrdom is so much like a backbone or foundation of the church and these two individuals are great examples of standing for truth,” Mark Hirsch, 38, said. “St. Thomas More stood up for indissolubility of marriage and he wouldn’t even obey his king. I hope our church leaders are strong enough to stand up for what marriage is and pray that they do. Thomas More would be a good example for all of our church leaders because marriage is under attack.”

Alyssa Hirsch, 35, said it was the first time the two had seen relics. The experience, she said, “has to bring you closer to Christ.”

Matthew Duffy, 41, of Greeley, traveled to see the relics also.

“These two saints are emblematic of the struggle the country’s in and examples of how we need to live our lives through whatever trials we’re in,” said Duffy, a parishioner at St. Peter in Greeley. “I came down to honor them, to pray to them for the world for the Christians in the Middle East and America, for the pharmacists in Washington and the babies in Texas, not to mention in the whole country.”

Friends Erika Xavier, 26, of Aurora and Elizabeth Mallory, 32, of Englewood, made a point to schedule a visit to the cathedral so their daughters could see the relics.

“We were planning a play day today with our girls and thought it would just be a really great opportunity to come and show our girls the relics,” Xavier said. “So they know they can be close to saints and they can be holy too,” Mallory added.

It is hard to overestimate the ramifications of the two men’s defiance of the King of England, Reed said.

“Both of these two had stood against Henry’s decision,” Reed said. “One of the things Henry VIII tried to do was to require all the senior churchmen to proclaim he was head of the Church ahead of the pope. John Fisher was the only one that refused to agree. It’s quite a remarkable thing really.”

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