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Around the Arch
Apr 18
Behind the Bench: John Paul Farahat

​For generations, music has had the power to stir people's faith.

According to the Church teaching in Sacrosanctum Concilium, music is "more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites." (112)

Throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto, we're blessed to have many organists (as well as music directors and cantors) who give of their time selflessly to ensure our liturgies are full, conscious and active.

This new series in Around the Arch will profile several organists and musicians from our four pastoral regions within the Archdiocese. These artists will share their diverse backgrounds, as well as interesting stories and personal highlights of their important work as musicians in the life of the Church . In this edition, we feature John Paul Farahat, a seasoned organist and musician in the Central Region.

1. Tell us about your musical journey and how it led you to where you are today as an organist.

I attended Saint Michael's Choir School for 10 years, from Grades 3 to 12. In my last year of study at the Choir School, following nine years of piano, I made the decision to take private organ lessons. From the first lesson, I was certain that the organ would always be a part of my musical life. I continued my studies at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, first as a harpsichordist, and then as an organist, acquiring the degrees of Bachelor of Music in Performance and Master of Music in Performance in organ. I'm now completing my Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ, through which I am researching and writing about the life and improvisations of world-renowned Canadian organist Victor Togni (1935 - 1965). 

I've been blessed with incredible mentors, and incredible opportunities over the years. Among them are playing solo organ recitals at Saint Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London, England, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, and Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. All of them deeply spiritual experiences, which will stay with me forever. 

My day-to-day life, I think, is quite exciting, fulfilling and spiritually enriching. I am the Director of Music & Principal Organist of Saint Basil's Catholic Parish at the University of Saint Michael's College, and I also play occasionally at Saint Michael's Cathedral Basilica at the 9 p.m. Sunday Masses.

2.  Where do you continue drawing inspiration from as you continue your vocation as a church organist?

I draw immense inspiration from two sources: the people I encounter, work with, and minister to through music, and the traditions of the Church. Knowing the ways in which music ministry allows and facilitates deeper worship for the people who I minister to - that is important to me. And we are so blessed with such rich and diverse musical traditions in the Church. 

3. Why should the everyday Catholic have an appreciation for the organ and/or anyone who plays?

The Second Vatican Council, in the 1963 document Sacrosanctum Concilium, spoke beautifully of the importance of the organ in the life of the Church. Indeed, the organ is uniquely equipped to support congregational singing. Because of the way organs are built, the sound does not dissipate or decay until the organist lets go of the keys. So it's very natural for sustaining singing, whether it be with the softest melody or the most exuberant and joyous chords. Not only that, but the huge range of the colours in the sound of the instrument - that is something very special, and uniquely different in every pipe organ. 

4. What is your all-time favourite piece on the organ?

That's a difficult question. I have a new favourite piece almost every week, but…there's an organ symphony by the French composer Charles-Marie Widor entitled Symphonie Gothique. It was completed in 1895 and is based on the Gregorian chant Introit (or Entrance antiphon) for the Mass of the Day on Christmas: Puer natus est nobis. It is absolutely sublime, transcendent music.

Apr 12
Post-season Passion and Prayers

​In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we have entered the time of year when we can celebrate the true joy of the Easter season and with renewed excitement watch some of our favourite athletes start growing their playoff beards.

Toronto's Maple Leafs and Raptors are both set for the first round of the NHL and NBA playoffs and, as you'd expect, hopes are high for the hometown fans. Both teams enter the post-season with solid seasons behind them, healthy star players and high expectations that they will fall firmly in the mix after the initial rounds are over.

The Leafs and Raptors have fan support behind them and the perennial question has surfaced again this year: Shouldn't we add the weight of our prayers to the effort? Is it OK to pray for our teams to win?

It should be a surprise to no one that faith has a prominent presence in sport. Hundreds of players in many different sports have symbols of their faith tattooed on their skin for us all to see. Teams often pray before a game and the Lord is often given first credits when the star of the game is interviewed post-win. And, front and centre in this year's March Madness NCAA tournament was the loveable 98-year-old chaplain of the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.

At its best, sport is a celebration of our creation (remember that our human bodies are 70 per cent water the next time you see a rim-rocking dunk or a clean bone-rattling body check), of our God-given talents and the call to excellence in all we do. Athletes often show us the best of ourselves as a society through excellent performance, friendly-yet-competitive behaviour during the game and kindness and generosity outside the arena. Barriers and boundaries are broken down through sport to strengthen us as a community.

You need to look no further than the overwhelming international reaction to the Saskatchewan bus crash that took the lives of 16 people associated with the Humboldt Broncos hockey team to see how sport connects us. While they begin in sport, those connections are seldom isolated to the sport itself – we are called to demonstrate our faith in all aspects of our lives; on the ice, on the court and throughout our day. Sport brought the Broncos family together. And the connection through hockey has increased the attention this tragedy has received. But the thoughts and condolences that have been sent to those involved have little to do with any actions on the rink. We pray for peace for the souls of those young athletes and the others who died, for solace for their families and friends, and for the recovery for those injured and healing.

With such sombre prayers in mind, is it OK to pray for the Raptors and Leafs to win? Church teachings suggest we can, in a way. The Book of Blessings includes a prayer before an athletic event (Thanks for the tip Jimmy Akin []):

Strong and faithful God,
as we come together for this contest,
we ask you to bless these athletes.

Keep them safe from injury and harm,
instill in them respect for each other,
and reward them for their perseverance.

Lead us all to the rewards of your kingdom
where you live and reign for ever and ever.

Response: Amen.

So, the suggestion is that we pray for the athletes to do the best to their abilities, that they are kept safe and that they are good examples for us all in competition. Really, as we know we have two of the most talented rosters in their respective leagues, that would be enough on its own.

May the best Maple Leafs and Raptors teams win!

Mar 29
Only Christ fulfills humanity’s desire for eternal love and life

The below post is the Easter homily of Fr. Michael McGourty, pastor at St. Peter's Church in Toronto.

Have you ever noticed how we as human beings talk to one another when we are in love with another person? Once we realize that we are in love with a person, we usually try to get the courage to tell the other person about this love. After we have said it once, we usually want to tell them over and over again. As these words lose their strength, we start to add adverbs and adjectives to describe our love. We say: "I love you very, very much," or, "I will love you for all eternity." 

I have always thought that this reality about ourselves, that when we love someone, we want to love them forever, is one of the best proofs for the existence of God and the fact that we each have an eternal soul. Because we are made in the the image and likeness of God, who is love, we are all of us made for love. The fact that when we do love, we usually wish to love a person for all eternity, points also to the fact that we have an eternal soul, one which was created to live and love forever. This is why when two people are in love and one of them dies, they can still feel such attachment and such a strong desire to continue in relationship with the person with whom they are in love.

There is a movie in the theatres these days that deals with the power of love and many of the themes of light and darkness that are a part of our Easter liturgies. The movie is the Walt Disney movie called A Wrinkle In Time. This movie is about a scientist, by the name of Dr. Murray, who believes that people can "think" themselves across the universe if they are just able to put their minds in communion with the great energy source that governs the universe. He spends years trying to figure out what is the proper frequency of the energy that governs the universe in order that he might put his mind in communion with this force. Eventually, he is able to discover that the force governing the universe is ultimately love and as he places his mind in communion with this energy of love, he is transported across the galaxy millions of miles away. Sadly, however, we learn that there is also another force at work in the galaxy and that is the force of evil and darkness. 

The forces of evil and darkness have the capability of taking people prisoners by making them focus on their selfish ambitions and turning them in on themselves. As Dr. Murray succeeds in transporting himself across the universe, his pride kicks in and he becomes a victim of his desire to be famous and discover something great. The forces of darkness overtake him, he turns his back on his family and he becomes a prisoner of these dark forces. Because his heart has been overtaken by the powers of darkness, he is unable to transport himself back to his home, because the frequency of love that transported him is not a frequency that can be accessed by those who have given their hearts over to the powers of darkness.

The plot of the movie develops as Dr. Murray's daughter, Meg, and son, Charles Wallace, encounter three celestial messengers who are sent to help them rescue their father. These three female figures can only operate in the light of love. They have no power over anything when they encounter the forces of darkness, which in the movie is referred to as "Camazotz." The Camazotz are represented in the film as a black dark hole that consumes all that it encounters. The Camazotz are governed by an evil entity known as the "IT," which devours all that it comes in contact with and turns anything or anyone that falls under its power into a selfish creature that is turned entirely in on itself. As Meg and Charles Wallace set out on a mission of love to rescue their father they are initially accompanied by the three celestial beings known as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. However, as they eventually encounter the forces of evil, the three celestial beings are no longer able to accompany them and they must rely on their own efforts. The brother, Charles Wallace, eventually falls to the power of evil and is taken over by the evil "IT." He tries to entice his sister also to enter the darkness and be tempered to become what she could be if given over entirely to selfishness. Meg, however, resists and shows the power that love has to save everything and everyone from the powers of darkness. Because of her love, she rescues her father and brother from the power of the evil "IT" and they are transported back to their home and reunited as a family. As I watched this movie, I was amazed at how it built upon so many of the truths that are at the heart of our human existence— the power of love, the struggle with evil and our desire for communion with one another and the forces that govern the universe. The story has appeal because it builds upon what we as humans know to be the truths of our lives. Yet, at the same time, I could not think how pointless the story was, because it missed the fundamental reason why all these things are part of our human experience.

Easter is the only reason any of the themes that are dealt with in the movie A Wrinkle in Time make sense or appeal to the human condition. In fact, I would like to suggest that Easter is the only story that can make sense of our human experience and existence. The whole story of Easter is told most perfectly at our Easter Vigil. At the Vigil, we begin in darkness. This is our human condition without Christ and it speaks of the struggle that takes place in our world between the forces of good and evil, or real authentic love and selfishness. The Easter candle is lit to announce that Christ has destroyed the darkness of death to become the light of the world. We are each given a candle at the Easter Vigil to symbolize the fact that at Baptism we received the light of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and are called to resist the darkness and allow His light to illumine our hearts. 

The Easter Vigil also presents us with a beautiful summary of the history of salvation. In it we are reminded that we were created in God's image and likeness. This means that we were created for love. However, as this story also tells us, there are many occasions in our lives that the power of darkness and sin overtake our desire for love or we fall under the spell of the same false god's that entrapped the Israelites in the desert. Just as in the movie A Wrinkle in Time, the Easter story tells us that there are three persons at work in the universe to bring about our good and our salvation. These three persons that are at truly at work governing our universe are revealed to us by Jesus Christ as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We recall on Easter Sunday that we were baptized into the Holy Trinity as we profess our faith in the Trinity and baptize in the "name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," as Jesus taught us to do. As we celebrate the Eucharist this Easter Sunday, and every Sunday, we too overcome the division of time and space as we are established in a Communion with the Holy Trinity and the Church in Heaven at the sacrifice which Christ has asked us to do in memory of Him.

The Easter story proclaims to us that love did come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ to destroy death and sin. Because of the Easter story, the love of God has destroyed death and every aspiration of the human heart will be fulfilled for those who turn to Jesus in faith and accept His message of salvation. Jesus has come not just to save us in the present moment, but to give us the gift of eternal salvation and eternal love. Because of His victory, our mortal longing for love will be eternally fulfilled. Jesus promises us eternal life and because of His victory the confines of time and space will be destroyed for all eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven that He has won for us. Because Jesus has died and risen, love will live forever, and so shall we, in the Father's love.

There is another movie in the theatres these days that explains why it might often be so difficult for some of us to see God and the Easter story at work in our lives and why it might be tempting to take movies like A Wrinkle in Time more serious than the Easter story. The movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ, deals with the struggles of the Roman Church in about the year 67. In this movie the forces of darkness and light are at war as the early Church is being persecuted by Nero as he attempts to blame his burning of the city on the Christians in Rome. At the time, the Church of Rome was made of up many persons, who like us, had not met Christ, but had only heard of His message. These Christians cannot understand why they must suffer and how the forces of darkness remain so powerful. They think it should be easier to see Christ and that He should come more visibly to their rescue in the face of their struggles. In the face of these trials and struggles, Paul speaks to this early community of his faith and confidence that Christ has conquered death and that His victory over death will be experienced by all who persevere in faith with Him. 

The message of Paul's writing to the early Christian community is that because of His resurrection Christ has conquered death and by His love has secured the gift of eternal life and love for all people. The Christian message is also that Christ has entered our world and become one of us. Because of His incarnation we must seek in faith to see His face in the ordinary and real events of our lives. Their is no romance in Christianity. Christians are called to live in reality, not fantasy and movies. The Christian people must have faith and persevere in the trials of life confident that God is with them. We have been saved, but we must also believe in this salvation enough to allow the power of God's grace to strengthen us. It is up to each individual to open his or her heart to Christ to allow His power to strengthen and transform each individual's weakness. Until we let go and let Christ, the powers of darkness will and can dominate our hearts and make us prisoners of sin. Christ has conquered death and the forces of darkness, but we must act in faith to allow His Holy Spirit to act in us and set our hearts free. Without faith, the powers of darkness will overtake our hearts and we will never see the Lord present to strengthen us and allow us to open our hearts to the power of His love and the victory that He has won for us over death.

Movies about love are so powerful for one reason: you and I have been made in the image and likeness of God— who is love. We are made for love, love will always be at the heart of our human experience. Love is a part of our quest for meaning in this life. Any story that attempts to quench that desire for love without taking into account who we really are as human beings will be entertaining and provide us with an emotional fix. There is, however, only one story that can quench and satisfy who we are as God's people. Made in God's image and likeness only the Easter story can bring fulfillment to the human person. In the Easter story, we celebrate that God has made us in His image and likeness. This story tells us that even though we often turn towards the darkness of sin and are overcome by it, Christ's love and grace can set us free if we allow Him to do so. To be saved we need only have faith in the Son of God and his victory over death and persevere in our faith in His power over death and sin. The Easter story celebrates the fact that the desire which we mortal human beings have for eternal love will be fulfilled because the Son of the Eternal God, who is love, has died and risen so that we might live and love for all eternity.

This Easter, as we celebrate the story of our lives, may the Son of God, who came into our world to destroy death, grant all of us the grace of accepting and sharing in His life giving victory over death and sin.

Happy Easter!

Mar 07
The power of prayer

​As Catholics, we believe in the power of prayer. We pray when we're happy, we pray when we're sad or worried – and we pray when we're feeling the gamut of emotions in between.

We pray because we know it works and because we want a deeper relationship with God. But there is another benefit to praying, as well: it is also good for our physiological health. 

A study from the University of Pavia in Italy found that balance between our various body rhythms – heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow to the brain – is an indicator of good physical health. As part of his research, Dr. Luciano Bernardi tracked the conditions that lead to a temporary disorganization of these body rhythms – and then examined the ways the body then recovers its "equilibrium."

Since his subjects lived in Lombardy, a very Catholic region, he had them recite the rosary in order to attain this balance. The result? The smooth, harmonious pattern of praying the rosary resulted in a perfect synchronization of the biological functions being studied.

This is good news for the faithful. When we're stressed and our body rhythms are out of whack, we can centre ourselves spiritually and from a physical perspective, too – through prayer.

As we strive to pray more this Lent, let's keep in mind the words of St. John Paul II, who said: "The rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer! Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth. In the prayer, we repeat many times the words that the Virgin Mary heard from the Archangel, and from her kinswoman, Elizabeth."

We can all find greater balance this Lenten season, spiritually and physically, through prayer.

Feb 16
Medal Metals: Bronze, Silver, and Gold

​Below is a post from The Archivist's Pencil, the blog of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. 

The Olympics are here again! During this time, 2,952 athletes from around the world are competing for bronze, silver, and gold medals in 102 events in 15 disciplines such as curling, figure skating, and ski jumping. 

Olympians have been receiving medals since the first modern Olympics in 1896, but the bronze, silver, and gold tradition started in 1904. The top competitors in the ancient Olympic games received an olive wreath. 

Thinking about the different medal metals made us wonder what we had in the archives made of the three. Turns out there were some interesting finds!

Let's start with third place bronze: 

This cross and chain came from the estate of Cardinal Carter. Not too much is known about it other than the fact that it has been corroding. We hope that storage in a climate-controlled environment will mitigate the damage!

Now for second place silver:

Two silver trowels presented to Cardinal McGuigan for laying cornerstones for St. Joseph's High School in Etobicoke in 1947 and St. Michael's College in 1935.

And in first place, gold!

A pair of 10k gold Birks cufflinks belonging to Archbishop Pocock with his coat of arms.

For a wider selection of images from the archives, please check out the original blog post at

Feb 08
Memories, a Milestone and Marriage

Marriage Sunday will be celebrated on Sunday, Feb. 11 across the Archdiocese of Toronto. Learn more.

Frank and Mary Rajtek are clearly happy and grateful for six decades of marriage.

This year, Mr. and Mrs. Rajtek, parishioners of All Saints Parish in Etobicoke, celebrate their 60th wedding Anniversary. They will be honoured in a special Mass, to be celebrated by Bishop Robert Kasun on Feb. 11 at Blessed Trinity Parish.

The Office of Formation for Discipleship at the Archdiocese of Toronto had the chance to interview with the Rajteks recently. The conversation was free-wheeling. Everything from Frank’s career as an engineer at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and working late nights, to travels with the kids, providing for the family and seeking opportunities to grow as a couple all came alive in the discussion -- as well as providing insights into their their faith journey.

Frank spoke about the sacrifices he made, working late hours, to make sure the family’s needs were met. Mary, on the other hand, spoke about the difficulties she sometimes faced in not seeing her husband due to work.

Mary recounted how she came to rely on God and grow in her faith throughout her years of marriage to Frank.

Click to watch Frank and Mary speak of the joys and challenges of married life
VIDEO: More snippets from Frank and Mary’s interview

“I think I really got to know God in nursing – through patients and seeing them suffering as well as getting better,” said Mary. “Their witness strengthened me in the vocation of marriage that I was living out.”

One thing that both Frank and Mary were quick to point out is the sense of gratitude they have for their grandchildrens' commitment to the faith. They recounted how their three grandchildren are all altar servers at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Toronto.

“We’re so proud of them,” Frank said. “We make sure to tell them that when we see them. They’re continuing on the legacy of making faith a central part of their lives, which we did ourselves all those years ago.”

When they look back on 60 years of marriage, Mary says she wouldn't change a thing about her decision to enter the Sacrament of Marriage with Frank.

“I can honestly say that not once over these years that I would have done differently in terms of marrying Frank,” Mary said. “I knew this was right and I know that this is where I wanted to be at this stage in my life. And now here I am.”

Jan 26
In celebration of World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life

Sr. Rosemary Fry, CSJ, is the vocation director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. Below, she shares reflections on the upcoming World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. 

 In 1997, Pope St. John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2. The Archdiocese of Toronto is hosting a special Mass to celebrate this World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life on Jan. 28, in anticipation of this.

As I attend that Mass with the other religious, this is what I will celebrate in great awe and gratitude.

On a very warm day in July 1963, I promised before my Religious Congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, and the Universal Church, to live out my Christian Baptismal commitment as a consecrated religious. Formally, this meant professing the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and promising to live a life of prayer and ministry in community with other Sisters. How little I knew about what this would mean in the years ahead!

As a teenager, I had been drawn to Jesus in the Gospels and decided that I wanted to live my life with him and for him. As I nursed and worked with others in Canada and Haiti, my realization and awe grew as I recognized that in meeting and caring for others I was meeting and caring for this Christ and, as St. Teresa of Avila tells us, I was allowing this Christ to use my hands and feet to minister in His world.

The deeper realization of this union with Jesus led me to enter more deeply into the Trinitarian life of the Father, Son and Spirit and the immeasurable love between them. Our world and the Universe itself is created and held in being by this Divine Trinitarian love and we are caught up in it, in a way we can barely grasp or understand.

Now, each day, as I continue to live this life I was invited to so many years ago, I return to an article in our Constitutions which clearly expresses my experience and the joy I feel beyond any of the ups and downs of my daily life:

Our life is a response in faith nurtured by prayer which invites us ever more deeply into the mystery of the Triune God: The all-inclusive love of the Father, the self-emptying love of Jesus, and the generous love of the Holy Spirit. We cultivate a contemplative awareness which unifies our life of prayer and action by finding God dwelling within us and present in all things.

Jan 18
5 Facts - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

​The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from Jan. 18-25. For those of us who may not know a lot about it, here are five facts about this key week in the life of the Church that reminds us of Jesus' prayer "that they may be one so that the world may believe (John 17:21)."

1. Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, co-founders of the Society of the Atonement, celebrated the first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1908.

2. The celebration began as the "Church Unity Octave" (an eight-day period of prayer) and evolved into annual worldwide observance among Christians.

 Pictured above, the logo for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  

3. Jan. 18-25 spans the days between the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul.

4. Since 1966, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Secretariat (now Council) for Promoting Christian Unity began collaborating on a common international text for worldwide usage.

5. The theme for 2018 is: "Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power (Exodus 15:6)." To help us unpack the meaning of this, this year's resources were prepared by the churches of the Caribbean.

For more information about the origins of this week, please visit

As we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, what does this year's theme mean to you on your spiritual journey? 

Jan 15
The Catholic Register celebrates 125 years

The Catholic Register newspaper celebrated 125 years of publication on January 5. Below is an editorial that ran recently, reflecting on the paper's mission to readers and continuing commitment to its founding principles. 

On Jan. 5, 1893, founding editor Fr. John Teefy introduced the debut issue of The Catholic Register to Canada's growing Catholic community with these words: "We are a Catholic journal — Catholic first, last and always.

This shapes our life and orders all our thought. From this standpoint we survey events, upon this ground we discuss questions, and to this fact we owe our being, our usefulness and our importance."

Schoolchildren read The Catholic Register in an undated file photo. 

The world has changed profoundly since then, but as true today as it was 125 years ago is The Register's steadfast allegiance to those founding principles. Fr. Teefy's words have guided this newspaper relentlessly through more than 12-plus decades of the most life-altering technological and social change in the history of mankind. And his words still define us today as The Register, Canada's oldest and most-read Catholic publication, celebrates its 125th anniversary.

In 1893, when Canada was barely a quarter century old and before Saskatchewan and Alberta had even joined Confederation, Toronto Archbishop John Walsh saw an urgent need for a Catholic newspaper in mainly Protestant English Canada. Writing in the first issue, he declared the newspaper's mission was to promote Catholic interests, vindicate the religious, educational and civil rights of Catholics, and to defend the Church against "the falsehoods and calumnies of which she is to frequently the object." He probably would be dismayed to see The Register is still required to advocate for the Church on not only these issues, but many other social and moral matters that Walsh never could have foreseen. We take that duty seriously.

Pope Francis recently echoed Walsh when he praised the value and effectiveness of Catholic media and made a case for its continued existence and vitality. A world that is faith deficient is often sullied by news that is sensationalized, distorted or even manufactured. Catholic newspapers, said the Pope, should adamantly reject those trends and provide reporting that is faithful, precise, thoughtful and charitable, always avoiding the temptation to stir up "media dust storms." Amen to that.

Couples often renew wedding vows on a special anniversary. The Catholic Register proposes to do likewise as we mark 125 years of service.

So to our readers we pledge the following: to do our best to provide quality journalism that is faithful to the Magisterium, respectful of Church leaders, loud in defence of Catholic rights, committed to the principles of truth, accuracy and fairness, unwavering in defence of the vulnerable, inclined to be charitable but ready when provoked to be tenaciously combative.

Above all, as when the first Catholic Register rolled off the press in 1893, we will be a Catholic journal — Catholic first, last and always.

Jan 05
Travels with St. Francis Xavier: Reflections from the “arm guard”

As the relic of St. Francis Xavier travels across Canada, it is accompanied by D'Arcy Murphy, a University of Ottawa student and a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach, a university student movement dedicated to evangelization. Below, D'Arcy shares insights on what it's been like to be the official guardian for the 465-year-old right forearm of one the greatest missionaries of all time.

1. As the "arm guard" of the relic of St. Francis Xavier, what does your role involve and what does your daily schedule look like?

My primary responsibility is for the relic itself, including carrying the case it is kept in, packing and unpacking the relic, keeping the Plexiglas case clean and standing on guard during veneration. On the plane rides, the relic is always beside me. As for our daily schedule, it's always different. The only things we can expect other than events on university campuses and in churches are long days, lots of travel and the unexpected!

2. You've taken a semester off from school to accompany the relic. What motivated you to do this?

This really is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To travel to so many places in one month, [the tour includes 15 Canadian cities in 30 days] but also to see all of the graces that come of it will be amazing. Through prayer, it was very clear that saying yes to this was more than just saying yes to something cool – I really felt called to partake in this mission when I was asked. I am saying yes to God and trusting that it is part of His plan for my welfare and future with hope! (Jeremiah 29:11)

D'Arcy Murphy, right, is seated beside the relic of St. Francis Xavier. Behind him is André Regnier, founder of Catholic Christian Outreach. They are part of the team accompanying the saint's right forearm across the country. 

3. What has your experience been flying with the relic – and what has been the reaction of your fellow passengers?

The tour team sits with the regular passengers, with the relic in the seat beside me. Even as I respond to these questions, I'm sitting beside the relic on our flight to St. John's. Many people have been quite curious. The airport staff and flight attendants have been most intrigued. While they do have the occasional package taking seat like the relic, they never see one treated with the same care and reverence and definitely not one that flies so frequently. Our flight attendant today sat beside André Regnier (CCO founder and a member of the tour team) for quite a while and asked so many questions – she said she wanted to come see the relic when it is in Montréal.

4. How do you describe travelling with the relic in layman's terms to those without an understanding of it?

The analogy that seems to be the most relevant for my friends is explaining that my role is like the keeper of the Stanley Cup. While this relic is way more important than the Stanley Cup, the practicality of how it is transported and cared for (white gloves and all) is pretty similar.

5. Can you tell us about the mission of the relic tour?

Bringing the relic of St Francis Xavier to Canada is actually about Christ and making Him known to our country, rather than just being about the saint. The relic provides a physical encounter with a man who lived a life of great virtue. He can be an example for all of us seeking to grow closer to the Lord. There are also three things we are anticipating for pilgrims venerating this relic: conversion to a Christ-centred life; healings; and increased zeal to evangelize.

6. Did you do any research on SFX and relics to prepare for the trip? If so, did anything you learned surprise you?

While I already knew the basic story of St Francis Xavier – he was a great missionary saint who travelled through Asia baptizing thousands and even witnessing God heal and raise people from the dead through his own intercession – it was how he got there that stuck out to me. I did not realize he had a conversion in university after being evangelized by another student (St. Ignatius of Loyola). This is really cool because university is where I encountered the Lord in a deeper way and where I seek to evangelize my peers who do not yet have the joy that comes from a Christ-centred life.

7. Before this experience, did you have any connection to relics – and had you ever seen any in the past? If so, which ones?

I've had a number of opportunities to venerate relics, most notably at the Mercy Centre in Krakow during World Youth Day 2016. Relics of St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, St. Maximilian Kolbe,  as well as the body of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frasatti at another site in Krakow, were all on display for veneration. Venerating those relics was an inspiring and moving. Seeing saints makes me want to become one too!

8. What impact do you think this experience will have on you?

Aside from a lot of physical stamina, I have witnessed the moving experiences individuals have when venerating the relic. One moment from yesterday in particular was when a homeless man came forward to venerate the relic. It was a beautiful moment and a great reminder of Christ's love for all people, especially the poor, when his weathered hand reached out to touch the relic. Sainthood truly is for everyone - it's our universal call. That was a pretty cool moment.

The relic will be visiting the Archdiocese of Toronto from January 12 to 14. For a full list of tour dates, please visit

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