Exhibit of 200 relics at New Jersey oratory is a special gift during Lent for many faithful

Visitors look at a display of 200 relics at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory in Montclair, N.J., Feb. 24, 2024. Nearly 3,500 faithful from as far away as Maine and Maryland waited over two hours to view the relics of Jesus, the Holy Family, various saints, martyrs and blesseds on exhibit. (OSV News photo/Sean Quinn, courtesy Archdiocese of Newark)

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (OSV News) — Nearly 3,500 of the faithful came from as far as Maine and Maryland and waited over two hours to view 200 relics of Jesus, the Holy Family, and various saints, martyrs and blesseds exhibited at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory in Montclair Feb. 24.

As they stood in the line that wrapped around three blocks, people became fast friends, chatting about their faith and their favorite saints. They shared stories about their religious items — rosaries, prayer, cards, statutes and medals — brought to be touched to the reliquaries creating their own third-class relics.

Rose, one of the volunteers helping to keep the crowd moving around the relics displayed on tables in the basement of the oratory, said she felt blessed to be part of the special exposition that included her favorite saint. Her husband, she said, was cured by Padre Pio. He was born in a small village in Italy and was unable to speak as a small child but in 1968 after a blessing by Padre Pio, his voice was found, Rose said.

“He never stopped talking after that,” Rose said with a laugh.

Joseph Santoro, regional delegate to the U.S. for the Order of the International Crusade for Holy Relics, or ICHR, wanted to host the exposition so Catholics could experience the relics’ many benefits.

“There have been many documented miracles and healings connected to relics,” Santoro told Jersey Catholic, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Newark.

Visitors look at a display of 200 relics at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory in Montclair, N.J., Feb. 24, 2024. Nearly 3,500 faithful from as far as Maine and Maryland waited over two hours to view the relics of Jesus, the Holy Family, various saints, martyrs and blesseds on exhibit. (OSV News photo/Sean Quinn, courtesy Archdiocese of Newark)

The relics are owned by Santoro who has “saved” over 400 relics “from getting into the wrong hands.” ICHR is an international group of independent relic apostolates, advocates and saint devotees. The knights, who are highly educated in relic authenticity, have vowed to rescue and protect holy relics from profanation and neglect.

Jason and Adriana Calcano from Rockaway, New York, brought their three children and Adriana’s sister and her three children. The children played as the group waited to get near the Passion and Holy Family sections that included a splinter of the true cross, a splinter of the crown of thorns, and a replica of one of the nails with a particle of the real nail inside.

The children were excited to see the Nativity section, which contained a piece of the crib and the swaddling cloth, a piece of the Tomb of the Holy Innocents, pieces of the veil of the Virgin Mary and the cloak of St. Joseph, and bones of three Magi.

“Bringing them will let them learn about the history of Jesus. This history is so beautiful,” Jason said.

Nick Palczenski made the drive from New York’s Long Island to attend the exposition with his girlfriend Jenny Hubert from Northvale. They especially wanted to see the Passion and St. John Paul II relics.

Ryan Rodriguez, 17, from Paterson brought rosary beads from his first Communion and Scapula of Mary he bought on his first pilgrimage to Rhode Island, where, he says, his Marian devotion began at a young age. As soon as he heard about the exhibit, he volunteered for it.

Father Giandomenico M. Flora, rector at the oratory, said the church was blessed to hold an exposition of such magnitude. He said he was “truly amazed” at the number of the faithful who went out of their way to visit the exposition and their “tiny church” in Montclair.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was established in 1907 to serve the needs of newly arrived immigrants from Italy, with the Religious Sisters Filippini arriving in the church in 1939.
The church has struggled over recent years, but the faith community pushed for a dedicated pastor and more robust Mass schedule. In August 2022, the church was designated as an oratory. Father Flora, from Praia a Mare, Italy, was appointed as rector during the church’s traditional St. Sebastian Feast and Carnival.

Many said that the timing of the exposition during Lent was a special gift to the faithful.

“It is a unique moment,” Father Flora said. “Some of the relics are from the Holy Family and date back to biblical times. (The exposition) also gives opportunities to connect with many of your most revered saints.”

The relics of saints and blesseds included the skin and blood of Padre Pio, the hair of St. John Paul, a piece of the linen on which Blessed Carlo Acutis, and the hair scarf of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini. There also were relics of the apostles and evangelists.

By 3 p.m. Father Flora was hearing confessions as people lined up at the confessionals after visiting the relics. The church also was filled for the 4:30 p.m. Mass. Many said they sought an indulgence “a remission of temporal punishment due to sin” after spending time with the relics, going to confession, and receiving communion that day.

Although the exhibit was scheduled to close its doors at 7 p.m., it was kept open until the last person left a little after 11 p.m., said Mark Donatiella, the church’s office manager. In the late afternoon, the church also requested a fish and chicken food truck to sell dinner outside the church.

Santoro, who has helped with several Mount Carmel St. Sebastian feast day celebrations over the years, received his first relic over 20 years ago and now takes care of 400 relics. He rescued many off eBay and auction sites, but most have been given to him by friends, priests, the Vatican, or shrines from around the world.

He credits his great-grandfather for giving him the passion for saving relics. His grandfather started him off with mini-statues of the saints.

Santoro went from collecting statues to rescuing relics. He then began studying relics, and most importantly their certification, and buying them off online auctions. He also joined the ICHR, which further aided in his studies and knowledge.

Relics are divided into three classifications. A first-class relic is a body part of a saint, such as bone, blood or flesh. Second-class relics are possessions that a saint owned, such as clothing, bed sheets or handkerchiefs. Third-class relics are objects that have been touched to a first- or second-class relic or that the saint has touched. Many walked away with third-class relics after visiting the exhibit.

Because laypeople should not own sacred relics, being able to see and venerate the relics is special, Father Flora said. The church wants them to be kept in churches or shrines, Santoro added.

Furthermore, the Code of Canon Law prohibits the sale of relics, and holy relics may not be given away without the permission of the Apostolic See, according to canon law.


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