Aloha Saint Damien: First-class relic less than a week away

This is an ongoing blog about Father Damien by Molokai Dispatch reporter Megan Stephenson.

As Saint Damien’s relic makes its grand tour around the island, many maybe wondering what they are looking at. A relic is some object that was a part of the life of a deceased believer of Christ that has been elevated to saint by the Catholic Church. It is a reminder of their sacrifice and divinity, and seen by followers to adore and to worship. However, the Church is now clear it is strictly a memorial – in the past, the Church believed that a relic had powerful properties residing within, but is discouraged now as to disassociate with some sort of magic.

There are three types of relics, classified by the physical connection to the saint. A first-class relic is an item directly associated with Jesus Christ – such as a part of the cross he was crucified on – or the saint’s physical body – such as a bone. These are the most prized of relics, as they are assumed to be incorruptible (they not deteriorate). A second-class relic is usually a piece of clothing or an item frequently used, such as a book or rosary. A third-class relic is usually more connected to the first- or second-class relics, such as small piece of cloth. The sale of relics are strictly forbidden, according to Canon Law.

Both of Saint Damien’s relics are first-class: his right hand and his left foot, both of which showed the physical signs of leprosy. This symbolism serves as an additional reminder of his sacrifice.

However, not all relics are Christ-related. There are many other religions who find solace in remembering their prophets or religious leaders. For example, the relics of Buddha are worshiped, and have been confirmed as Buddha’s by archaeological study.

The relic is currently in Maui. It will travel to Lanai and Kauai before returning to Molokai this Friday. The relic will permanently reside in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, where Saint Damien was ordained a priest nearly 150 years ago.


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