THE Papal Nuncio to Ireland has admitted that the Catholic Church is going through stormy times but said he believes this time of trial will usher in a new era.
At Mass in St Agnes's Church in Crumlin, Dublin, to mark the arrival of St John Bosco's relic in Ireland for the first time, Archbishop Charles Brown referred to a vision the Italian saint had in 1862 in which he saw the church as a boat, with the pope at the helm, tossed about on stormy seas.
The nuncio told pilgrims: "The Holy Spirit is with the church even in the midst of trials – even in the midst of storms."
He asked them to pray for the cardinals who are preparing to elect a successor to Benedict XVI and to pray for the Pope as he goes into retirement and for the new pontiff.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Archbishop Brown paid tribute to Benedict XVI: "I certainly have a degree of sadness in seeing Pope Benedict go into retirement because I have the greatest respect for him."
The saint he referred to earlier, St John Bosco (1815-1888) , is revered for his dedication to improving the life of street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged youth during the industrial revolution in his native city of Turin, Italy.
He adopted a teaching method based on love rather than punishment, a method known as the Salesian Preventive System. In Ireland, the Salesians (priests and sisters) have 27 centres for educating and working with young people.
Popularly known as Don Bosco, he is also the patron saint of Catholic stage magicians. It is the first time the relic has visited Ireland. It is here as part of a worldwide pilgrimage in preparation for the 200th anniversary in 2015 of the saint's birth.
The glass casket enables those venerating the relic to see the sculptured face of Don Bosco, which was made from the saint's death mask. Inside the replica body, laid out in priestly vestments, tissue from the founder of the Salesian order's right hand and arm is preserved in a large urn.
Some of those attending Saturday evening's liturgy paid tribute to the Italian saint.
Natalie Doherty (22), who runs Communion and Confirmation programmes and a youth club in Sruleen parish in Clondalkin, said she liked Don Bosco's willingness to engage with young people.
"To be honest I didn't know what to expect. It was more like a curiosity," she said.
"But it is quite remarkable – very spiritual. I think his path is still relevant today."
Sr Felista Nthanya Nyamasyo (34), a Sister of Notre Dame des Missions from Kenya, said she hoped the visit of the relic would "in one way or another revive vocations here... with the presence of John Bosco – miracles could happen in this country".
Fr Pat Egan, a Salesian priest from Celbridge who is originally from Drimnagh, explained that his parents were married in St Agnes's Church and he served as a curate there in the 1970s.
He was a member of the Bosco club in Drimnagh and his experience of the Salesians prompted him to join the order.
He added: "For me to come back and celebrate the arrival of the relic of our founder for the first time in Ireland here in St Anges's is fantastic."
Sr Alix Verdet (34), of the newly established Fraternity of Mary Immaculate Queen, said: "I came to pray for the young people of Ireland. People in Ireland still have hearts beating with a lot of love for God. This relic is a sign of hope to tell the Irish to keep the faith."
Full details on the nationwide tour are available at www.donboscorelics.ie.