Close Encounter of the Relic Kind - St. Camillus' Heart Relic
Have you ever seen priests and nuns wearing a large red cross on their chests? These men and women are the Camillians. Their charism is caring for the sick and their founder is St. Camillus de Lellis.
The Heart's Journey
Saint Camillus is known in the saint world as "the giant with a heart". Why? Because he was a giant of a man who offered his heart and hands for the service of the sick.
After his death in 1614, his heart was extracted by his followers and kept as a relic in a church in Italy. In preparation for his 400th death anniversary in 2014, the heart - relic of St. Camillus de Lellis, is, for the first time, travelling from Rome to different parts of the world where there are Camillians.
The heart relic has just recently completed its almost month long journey to various parts of the Philippines. We are very lucky and blessed that the Camillian sisters in the Philippines have their church near our place, so we were able to view and venerate the heart relic several times last February 19 -21, 2013.
Unlike other relics of saints that are contained in large and opaque reliquaries, the heart relic of St. Camillus is actually contained in a heart shaped crystal glass and a dome shaped glass reliquary so that it can be clearly viewed up close. Thus it is possible to take close-up pictures of it.
Just What Is A Relic?
A relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person. Some relics are incorruptible and have not undergone decay changes through the years. The heart relic of St. Camillus is now almost 400 years and it has remained incorruptible.
The relic serves as a memorial and is honoured and venerated. Relics do not possess magical or miraculous powers, but praying before relics can strengthen our faith in Christ. It is our faith that will eventually produce miracles.
The Heart Relic Visit
Being a member of the Documentation Committee during the relic visit to the Camillian Sisters church, I had a chance to join all the 3-day activities and be close to the heart relic most of the time. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me as I don't know if I will see the relic again now that it has gone back to its permanent place in Rome.
My Encounter With the Heart Relic
The first time I saw the heart relic was inside the Our Lady of Paz Church. It was inside its dome- shaped reliquary, on a special table beside the altar. I could hardly see it because I was seated at the other side of the church during the mass. After the mass however, the relic in its reliquary was transferred to a small chapel for the formal turn over rites to the Camillian Sisters. There, I had my first close encounter with the relic.
I felt awe, wonder, and joy as I took photos of the simple rites. I even had goose bumps as the Camillian Fathers transferred the heart relic from the reliquary to a special box to protect it during the road trip between the Our Lady of Paz Church and the Camillian Sisters Church.
From Unknown to Known
When we first started inviting friends for the relic visit, the first question was always, "St. Camillus, who is he?" But once the relic arrived here in the Philippines on February 18 and during its visit to many churches and chapels in the country, St. Camillus finally became known to many people and the number of devotees increased.
St. Camillus however is no stranger to hospitals, doctors, nurses and other health workers as he is their patron saint. Thus, hospital chapels where Camillian priests are chaplains are always stopover points of the itinerary during the heart relic's journey across the country. A healing mass is also celebrated whenever possible during these visits.
Who is Saint Camillus?
Saint Camillus must have been destined to become a saint because his birth alone is already a kind of miracle.
His mother, Camilla was already almost 60 years old when she gave birth to Camillus in 1550. However, there is nothing saintly at all in Camillus when he was a young boy and later on an adult. He was described as an "incorrigible gambler" who would even gamble the shirt on his back.
He also became a soldier of fortune and his services were always given to the highest bidder. However, his encounters with the sick during his stay in the Hospital of St. James in Rome as well as his own search for healing of the sore in his leg, finally led to his conversion.
St. Camillus eventually became a caregiver and even director of the Hospital of St. James. It is said that he cared for the sick as a mother would care for an only child. He called the sick as his 'Lords and Masters' because according to him, he "saw Christ in every sick person" he encountered.
Other men admired the way Camillus cared for the sick and eventually joined him in his new way of caring. This caring group of men later was formally established as "The Ministers of the Sick or the Infirm." Thus we see "M.I." or "Ministers of the Infirm" after the name of every Camillian priest. The Camillian Sisters were also established much later.
These Camillians all wear a large red cross on their breast. They care for the sick not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, in other words, a holistic kind of caring.
A New Beginning
During the three days that I documented through photos the various activities connected with the heart relic visit at the Camillian Sisters Church in our subdivision, I have not personally witnessed any physical healing. However, I witnessed diverse groups of people, of all ages, and from all walks of life, pray as one and worship as one.
I witnessed a change in attitude especially towards the physically sick. People gave way to others. People patiently waited for their turn to pray in front of the relic. People did not push each other or try to gain vantage point at the expense of others. This change of attitude is to me a new beginning and I believe a miracle has indeed taken place.
A Personal Experience
It took me several days between writing and finally publishing this hub. Why? Because I debated with myself on whether to share or not the following personal experience. But something in me said that I should share, so here goes...
As I was writing that last paragraph about the change in attitude, a strong, sweet smell of flowers suddenly filled our family room. This lasted for several seconds. There was no wind at that time, so the smell could not have come from outside. Still, just to make sure, I went outside to check if there are flowers blooming in our garden or nearby. No flowers could be found. So I went back inside and just said a silent prayer to St. Camillus.
Other Facts About St. Camillus
One hundred twenty eight (128) years after his death, St. Camillus was beatified in 1742 and canonized four years later in 1746.
Prayer to St. Camillus
A Poll About An Encounter With A Relic
Have you ever had any close encounter with a relic of a saint?
If you answered "Yes" to the poll above, could you please share your experience with us in the comments section?
Thank you very much!