Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, June 24, 2018

relics-TS-300BLOOMFIELD – Denise Serafini flies with faith in her carry-on bag. The exhibit she travels with is small enough to fit into a suitcase, but draws large crowds and inspires deep reverence.

"Relics of the Passion" is its name, and the exhibit is traveling through the Archdiocese of Hartford during Lent. Its first stop will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at St. James Parish in Manchester.

Eight tiny relics related to the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ make up the exhibit, which Ms. Serafini says fascinates children and moves many adults to prayerful reverence.


"I’ve seen people with tears, certainly," she said.

Ms. Serafini is one of four members of the Apostolate for Holy Relics, which has transported the relics since 2007. The apostolate has other traveling relic exhibits, including one of relics of saints considered to be patrons of the branches of the armed forces.

 "Relics of the Passion" includes two small splinters from the cross on which Jesus died and a piece of the crown of thorns that was placed on his head. Also in it are a fragment from the column at which he was flogged, a replica of a nail used in the Crucifixion, a piece of bone from the body of the centurion who pierced Jesus’ side with a lance, a picture of Veronica’s veil that has touched the original, a fragment of the table used for the Last Supper, and a segment of the exterior wrapping that contained the Shroud of Turin when it was available for viewing and veneration.

The relics are most often displayed in a church and in conjunction with a prayer service that includes the reading of meditations and intercessions related to each relic.

Ms. Serafini said that no matter where they are displayed, the relics move people deeply.

"I have to tell you that there’s a quiet that has always surprised me. Usually, you know, the priest gets up and does the homily, and there are babies that are crying and whatsuch and little kids that are out of control. It’s not like that at all for some reason. It’s extremely quiet."

Ms. Serafini typically organizes the visits with pastors and coordinates each stop with local fourth degree Knights of Columbus, who usually arrange a procession for the entrance of the relics that adds ceremony and dignity to the atmosphere.

She said that in parishes, a priest typically holds the relic of the True Cross, which is encased in a small container called a teca, in the center aisle so that the congregation can walk forward to kiss it.

The other relics are displayed nearby, each in its own reliquary. The Knights of Columbus stand behind them, wearing white gloves, and lift an additional relic that a person may want to venerate.

"I’ve heard people say, ‘I have never felt this close to Jesus,’" Ms. Serafini said. "I think I do understand that what they’re saying is it gives them a moment to talk to him or encounter him in a different presence."

The appeal of the relics isn’t limited to Catholics. She recalled a tour in northern Nevada last year that drew a group of Mormons.

"I came to realize that the relics of the Passion belong to all Christians. I hadn’t really thought about it before. That brought some of the real impact of this to the forefront of my mind," she said.

All of the relics are framed or encased in reliquaries. "These holders are beautiful. That’s to treat the relic itself with honor," she said.

The "Relics of the Passion" exhibit has visited at least 12 archdioceses and nine dioceses throughout the United States as well as Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii.

When the exhibit travels by air, she transports it in a metallic carry-on bag. She never checks it as luggage.

"Oh, no. The issue is that you never know what people are doing with your luggage, and these are irreplaceable things I’m carrying," she said.

She recalled that the first time she was scheduled to fly with the reliquaries, she feared that their odd shapes and sharp edges would arouse extra suspicion as the carry-on bag passed through the X-ray machine.

"The first time I took them out, I thought, ‘Oh … this is going to be a big deal,’" she recalled. "I arranged for people to be at the security stop because I knew I still had to go. I said, ‘Okay, if anything happens, you can take the ones that they won’t let me take [aboard] and I’ll take the other ones.’"

Instead, she was waved through, and since then has never been delayed by any Transportation Safety Administration workers.

"There isn’t even an eyebrow that’s raised," she said, adding, "I think a lot of the governing activities around these events are managed by St. Joseph."

St. James Parish is hosting the exhibit in celebration of the Year of Faith.

Father Kevin P. Cavanaugh, pastor, has encouraged parishioners and others to take advantage of the opportunity to view the relics. This will be a truly meaningful experience for all of us," he said.

"Viewing these relics and meditating on the death of our Lord will help us to focus on the Passion of Christ in a somewhat different way from what we’re used to. I hope many will join me at what will be a profoundly moving program."

The exhibit will be at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hartford at 7 p.m. Feb. 28, at Most Holy Trinity Church in Wallingford at 7 p.m. March 19, and at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury at noon March 27. All are open to the public. It also will travel to Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury on March 25, although that visit is for the school community.

It also will travel to Troy, N.Y., for March 1-3 and then to Las Vegas March 8-11.

Ms. Serafini said that although the exhibit is geared toward the Passion, she would like to take it to parishes after Easter during this Year of Faith.

"I would love to see people think about taking this for Pente-cost, because the Holy Spirit is the great conveyor of God’s mer-cy, and it’s all through the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that that came about. In honor of the Holy Spirit, to have the relics of the Passion, I think, would be of tremendous value to people," she said.

Information about the tour is available from her at Information about the Apostolate for Holy Relics may be found at