AVE MARIA — On the day of Jesus’ Crucifixion, Saint Mary Magdalene was present.
On Easter Sunday, the Bible says she was the first witness present at Jesus’ tomb when he rose from the dead, and on Thursday, a piece of the Penitent saint was present in Ave Maria’s oratory for all to see.
A piece of St. Mary Magdalene’s tibia, the typically larger of the two bones located between the knee and the ankle, made a one-day stop at Ave Maria during its national tour that started Oct. 21 and will end Nov. 30.
“To see a relic from Mary Magdalene is just unbelievable,” said Diane Matusik, who knelt before the relic and prayed. Matusik, who said she felt humbled kneeling before the relic, said that she traveled all around Europe and never saw anything like this.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to pray in front of a relic knowing that she was somebody that was dear to Jesus,” Matusik said.
The relic, which was kept at the front of the oratory in a glass and golden case, has already traveled to Washington, D.C., New York City and Atlanta.
“It’s the only place that the relic is coming in Florida, which is why we’re so excited” said Deacon Forrest Wallace, director of marketing. “As you can see, a lot of people are coming from far and wide to venerate the relic.”
Viewing of the relic began at 11 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. with a rosary procession. An informative lecture on the relic was given at 8 p.m. Hundreds of people came throughout the day, lining up down the center aisle of the oratory waiting their turn to kneel and pray before the relic. Visitors were permitted to touch the relic’s glass casing.
Robert Garrity, director of campus ministry, was one of the main proponents of bringing the saint’s bone to Ave Maria.
“When she died, this was a very ancient Christian practice to save the bones of those who had been near and around our Lord,” Garrity said. “When I heard about [the relic’s tour] I contacted them by way of e-mail and said we would love to have them here.” Ave Maria religious officials had to first gain the permission of Bishop Frank Dewane in the Diocese of Venice before the relic was allowed to come to the oratory.
“A lot of people came from far and wide to come and honor the relic number one, but also to ask for special graces from our Lord from this friend of our Lord’s,” Robert said. “Saint Mary Magdalene was a personal friend of Jesus and she walked with, talked with him and she was at the foot of the cross.”
Phyllis Huhn heard about the relic’s visit to Ave Maria on the Eternal Word Television Network and drove five hours from Beverly Hills to see Mary Magdalene’s bone.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I certainly came here,” said Huhn, who believes in miracles. “When I sat in front of the relic I felt a peace and chills all over my body, and I know there’s a connection with that and something in the spirit world.”
Many Ave Maria University students came to kneel before the relic and pray.
“I was touched in the sense that it outlined humanity,” said Michael Tondo, who’s majoring in philosophy. ”This is part of Mary Magdalene and this is part of what she used to walk around every day and live her life in a holy way.”
The relic was hidden at the time of the Saracen invasions during the early Middle Ages. Once it was found again in 1279, it was returned to France and has been venerated ever since.
Saint Mary Magdalene’s bone is normally housed in a cave in the Sainte-Baume mountain range in southeast France near the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles. Saint Mary Magdalene spent many years toward the end of her life in the Sainte-Baume cave while repenting her sins.
Sainte-Baume translates to holy balm, which is a fragrant ointment used to heal or soothe the skin.
Bishop Dominique Rey of the Frejus-Toulon Diocese in France gave permission for the relic’s tour of the U.S.
“We were invited by bishops and a few Americans who know very well la Sainte-Baume,” said Fr. Louis-Marie Arino-Durand, who is one of the three French Dominican priests taking turns accompanying the relic on its American tour. “They wanted to organize a tour of a month and a half, and to have brothers with them because the brothers are the guardians of the grotto and the guardians of this relic.” The other two Dominican priests were from the village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, France, which is where St. Mary Magdalene died. The village is roughly 31 miles Northeast of Marseilles. Fr. Louis-Marie is from Toulouse, which is in Southeastern France.
“I think it is very important to show a relic, and [we do] not adore a relic, we venerate a relic because it reminds us that it is a body and the body is important,” said Fr. Louis-Marie, who said the relic is not a proof of but a testimony of the Catholic faith. “That’s a way of meeting her, and through her, the Lord. It’s a medium.”
Fr. Louis-Marie believes that seeing and touching the relic is a way to meet God because it is a medium through which people can get closer to God.
“She shows us that nothing is ever lost and nobody is too far away from God, and that is why I think it is a very good thing to approach her,” Fr. Louis-Marie said.
E-mail Sarah Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.