Saint John Vianney did not have the luxury of GPS.
As he was walking along a country road in France in 1818, the young Father Vianney asked a young shepherd for directions to the town of Ars to begin his first parish assignment.
The shepherd, Anthony Givre, happily accommodated.
“Anthony, you have shown me the way to Ars,” Father Vianney said to him. “I will show you the way to Heaven.”
More than two centuries later, that story is relevant to the faithful of Altoona-Johnstown, explained Bishop Mark L. Bartchak.
“I invite you to be another Anthony Givre,” the Bishop urged those who made the pilgrimage to venerate the incorrupt heart of Saint John Vianney. “Remind us, gently, that you have some ideas of the direction to follow. Remind us, gently, that we need to be strong and clear and faithful in announcing the most important direction for all persons: the way to Heaven.”
Bishop Mark delivered that plea during his homily at a special Mass closing out the Saint John Vianney Relic Pilgrimage on Thursday, January 31 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona.
Sponsored by Knights of Columbus, more than 2,000 people poured into the Cathedral throughout the day while the saint’s heart – a first class relic – was present.
Three earlier Liturgies were celebrated, and priests were on hand all day to hear confessions – an opportunity that many seized.
The challenging times that Saint John Vianney faced in France in the 18th century are not unlike many of the difficulties we face today, the Bishop conceded.
The model of Saint John Vianney, patron saint of priests, can teach us a few things about pastoral renewal.
In fact, his mission statement is reflected in that simple and beautiful statement to Anthony Givre about showing the way to Heaven.
“Those words are just as important today for all of us who are here in this Cathedral,” mentioned the Bishop.
He reminded all priests present during the Mass to follow the example of John Vianney by paying attention to and listening to the people for whom they are ordained to minister.
He encouraged his brother priests to be in a constant state of pastoral mission of exhorting, catechizing, and strengthening the faithful through the Word of God and the sacraments.
Clearly, the Saint John Vianney Relic Pilgrimage was a day of great joy for Bishop Mark as he greeted so many priests, religious, and lay individuals who chose to be part of this special event in our Diocesan Church.
“Today, with the presence of this holy relic, the uncorrupted heart of Saint John Vianney, the fire of the love of God has been rekindled by prayers,” offered Bishop Mark. “Today, the fire of God’s love and our love for God has been rekindled by those who came in search of healing through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Above all, the fire of the love of God is rekindled for us in this celebration of the Holy Eucharist.”
We must never cease to remind Saint John Vianney to intercede for us, the Bishop suggested, especially in our longing for good and holy priests.
“The more that we all do our part in seeking the kingdom of Heaven, the more we should be sure that the Lord Jesus will send us more who have the heart of a priest like John Vianney,” promised Bishop Mark.