Religious relics signify neighborhood unity | WBEZ
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Weekend All Things Considered

Religious relics also signify neighborhood unity


A view of Holy Family Parish ((AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)

This Sunday Holy Family Parish on Chicago’s west side marks a milestone: their 155th anniversary. 

Holy Family is Chicago’s second oldest church. Historically it has been a gateway church, for immigrants ranging from Irish to Mexican. The church is also a survivor of sorts. It escaped the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the threat of demolition in the 1980s after attendance declined.

Father Jerry Boland says these days his parish is strong.

"With all the development on the near west side, it’s like here come’s everybody! There is a large diverse parish community," he says.

So the pews are likely to be full this Sunday mass. People will also be on hand to get their first glimpse of 2,000 year old relics the Vatican says are remnants of the original Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The relics consist of three microscopic fragments, of a thread from Joseph's cloak, Mary's veil and that famous manger. Father Boland says they’re articles of faith, and can be used to bless those in need, "whether suffering from a cancer diagnosis or unemployment."

The relics are a gift from the nearby Shrine of our Lady of Pompeii and because of this, Father Boland thinks they also signify the unity among the neighborhood’s Italian, Hispanic and African Americans.

Boland says until fairly recently (he arrived at Holy Family 11 years ago) the neighborhood's Catholics worshiped along racial and ethnic divides: Italians went to Our Lady of Pompeii, Hispanics congregated at St. Francis of Assisi Parish and African-Americans belonged to Holy Family.

Boland says there was a time when a gift from one parish to another just wouldn't have happened.

"The fact that the Shrine is giving something that is a very important part of their collection or of their patrimony, this is a great act of kindness to us, and I know is going to translate into people just feeling so much better about our relationships in the neighborhood."

The Feast of Holy Family takes place this Sunday at 9:45 a.m.

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