The cliche is common enough: "relic of another era." Relics themselves are usually associated with medieval piety, with pilgrims venerating fragments of bone and cloth associated with revered saints.
But the full house at St. Paul Catholic Cathedral in Oakland on Tuesday told a different story -- that relics are every bit a feature of modern piety among at least a portion of the Catholic faithful. Well over a thousand pilgrims, maybe into the plural thousands by the time the day was through, came to a Mass or passed by the relics of St. Padre Pio, one of the most revered of modern saints. He was widely regarded as a humble friar, confessor, healer and bearer of the stigmata, or wounds of Christ. In many ways his own life seemed far removed from the 20th century in which he lived out his vocation. And yet he was part of it.
See my article here about the large turnout for the relics. Padre Pio has a special connection to Western Pennsylvania, for his Italian peasant father came to New Castle to earn some money for a few years so that he could afford the education his son would need for the priesthood.
And see a video clip here of some of those who reached the front of the line to venerate the relics, which included a lock of hair and some fragments of fabric, including a tiny piece of a bloodstained cloth.
We in Pittsburgh know of the persistence of such piety first-hand, given that we're home to St. Anthony's Chapel, purported to be the largest collection of relics outside of the Vatican.
William Faulkner's quote comes to mind. It goes something like this: "The past is not dead. It's not even past."
(Note: the photo above is panorama, which accounts for the distortion in visual perspective.)