A November ceremony will celebrate the beatification of Father Solanus Casey.
Relics of Father Solanus Casey’s remains — bone and tissue removed from his arm when his tomb was opened in August — will be enshrined and displayed after the Catholic Church declares him Blessed in a beatification ceremony Saturday at Ford Field.
The fragments of Casey’s human remains are called relics by the Catholic Church. They represent a way “to be in contact with the holy,” says Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron.
“People want to touch God,” explains Vigneron, the leader of 1.3 million Catholics in the six-county Archdiocese of Detroit.
The relics from Casey’s body will be enshrined in special displays in metro Detroit. St. Bonaventure Monastery, where Casey once ministered as the church’s door porter, will display the relic in a small cove in the back of its church sanctuary. Another display will be at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the seat of the Detroit archdiocese.
Vigneron said there also will be a traveling display, so Casey’s relics can be brought to other parishes.
During the beatification ceremony, Casey’s remains will be carried in a wooden box shaped like a cross. Carrying the relics will be Paula Medina Zarate, a retired schoolteacher from the Central American nation of Panama. Pope Francis has decreed that a miracle occurred when Zarate’s skin disease was cured in 2012 after she prayed at Casey’s tomb in Detroit.
Retrieving relics is a required and, often considered strange, part of the Catholic saint-making process. It involves exhuming the remains of a possible candidate for sainthood and inspecting the remains.
To the church, if the human body has well-weathered the decay usually brought on by burial, it could be a sign of heavenly intervention. Detroit Catholic officials exhumed Casey’s body from the Capuchin graveyard in 1987 during early stages of his cause for sainthood.
On Aug. 1, they opened his casket again in preparation for Casey’s beatification ceremony to gather relics of his remains. (After the 1987 exhumation, Casey’s remains were moved to a tomb inside the Capuchin monastery.)
This is Catholic practice and tradition. Many altars at Catholic churches contains a relic of a Catholic saint. Visitors to the Italian Basilica of St. Anthony, who died in the 13th Century, will see his voice box on display in a chapel. The heart of the Rev. Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest beatified in September 2017, remains in Guatemala, where he was murdered by rebels in 1982.
“Personally, to be able to be present and see his actual remains is an experience that most of the faithful never have,” said the Rev. Larry Webber, a Capuchin priest who helped prepare and present the case for Casey’s beatification to Vatican authorities. “Most of us were not present when it happened in 1987, and to have it happen again as we prepare for beatification is a chance to venerate his remains in a special way.”
Dr. Werner Spitz, the famed metro Detroit pathologist, was part of the team that examined Solanus’ remains over the summer. Spitz is Jewish, and said even his mother would pray to St. Anthony, patron of lost causes, when she misplaced something.
Spitz also said he believed in miracles, and said he’d never seen a body exhumed after 60 years that looked so “amazingly well.”
Casey’s relatives, who were present, could still identify him, said Spitz.
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