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Rare opportunity to experience relics of Fisher and More draws more than 150

Jul 8, 2016

More than 150 people came to Queen of Peace Church in Cloquet June 27 to view and venerate the relics of two English martyrs — St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More — during the hour and a half the Strength of the Saints tour’s visit to the Diocese of Duluth.

It was the second Minnesota stop on the tour, after a similar event in St. Paul the evening before.

A family stands near the relics of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More as a member of the Knights of Columbus looks on June 27 at Queen of Peace Church in Cloquet. The faithful were given an opportunity to view and venerate the relics following Mass and a short historical presentation. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

The compressed schedule began with Mass, celebrated by Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, followed by a brief historical presentation by Jan Graffius, the relics’ curator at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England.

The event concluded — and ran a bit past the 11 a.m. departure time — with the opportunity for those gathered to pray with the relics individually, touching glass cases enclosing a ring of Fisher and a reliquary with part of the skull and tooth of More.

Bishop Sirba, in his homily, said that like many he had come to know about St. Thomas through the awardwinning movie “A Man for All Seasons.” But he also described having the opportunity to visit England and pray in the Tower of London where the two saints were kept before their martyrdom under King Henry VIII.

He called to mind a comment of the late Cardinal Francis George, of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who once said he expected to die in his bed while his successor died in prison and his successor as a martyr in the public square.

“I remember visiting with Cardinal George thinking that’s quite a trajectory,” Bishop Sirba said. He noted that the challenges to religious liberty confronting the faithful are “manifold and complicated.”

He urged the faithful to be informed and active but most of all to appeal to God.

“The victory is the Lord’s,” he said, and being at an event like the relic tour “does more good than we can imagine.”

Graffius gave short biographies of the two saints — both renowned scholars — and the growing conflict between church and state in their time that culminated in Henry VIII’s decision to declare himself head of the church and require his people to swear to it. Fisher, a bishop, was the sole bishop in England to refuse.

She also described the relics themselves and how they were acquired, in the case of the relic of St. Thomas, passed down through his daughter Meg.

Graffius said she does a lot of teaching and said there are two points she likes to make. First, she said, great faith comes at a price, whether it is in the form of ridicule or poor finances or lack of promotions or even the ultimate price illustrated in the martyrs.

Second, she said people of faith could take inspiration from the two saints to bring an informed faith to the public square, which needs it.

“Although they are Englishmen, they have a message for the whole world,” she said.

The tour came to Minnesota as part of a tour that began June 18 in Miami and had already passed through Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. After Minnesota, plans were for the tour to continue to Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and finally Washington, D.C.

The June 27 stop in Cloquet was the first of the day, followed by stops in Bemidji and St. Cloud. The following day had scheduled stops in the New Ulm and Rochester dioceses before the tour left the state.

The tour is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom, this year under the theme “Witnesses to Freedom.”

— By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross