Tuesday, March 25, 2008

AIR: A Big Dog and Relics

The adventures when we were closing churches were numerous. This one still makes me chuckle... and cringe.

We head off to the South Side, West Englewood. The neighborhood is impoverished, but had once been the "newer" part of the Back of the Yards neighborhood. At one time, very ethnically diverse. The day's assignment was a parish that was very unique. Perhaps 20 years before, it had been a reasonably wealthy parish for the neighborhood and had built a new church. The pastor who built the church was still there, even as the parishioners moved away. Many of those folks would come back every Sunday, but their numbers were declining. Apparently, the church was also stuck in a time warp and the pastor still said the old Latin Mass.

So anyway, we roll up one morning. There is s small parking lot in front of the rectory. We park and I step out. There is a three or four foot fence separating the parking lot from a small lawn in front of the building. Off to the side, I see a much taller chain link fence. I open the gate and ring the doorbell. Within seconds, the largest dog that I have ever seen is paws and head above the six foot fence. It is very unhappy that we are at the door. I about jumped out of my shoes. I recall taking several steps back towards the van and my boss laughing at me. All I could think of was that I needed to be just one step faster than him getting into the van.

The door opens and the caretaker greets us. He tells us that he'll be right back because he has to secure the dog door. It seems that this dog (a Great Dane) is only obedient to the pastor and just tolerates the caretaker. He's back a couple minutes later and tells us that the dog is a great watchdog and they never have problems around the church. They've told the local Police District about the dog as well and if the police ever have to enter the rectory, they will likely have to shoot the dog. I really wanted to go check how secure that dog door was...

So we set to work. The pastor pretty much ignores us as we start packing records. We're appraising parish bulletins when the mail arrives. I notice a bunch of small mailing tubes. The pastor clears his desk and starts opening them. Inside each tube are circular containers with something inside and a paper attached to the container. It takes a few moments and it dawns on me that these are relics.

For those of you who aren't Catholic, relics are objects that have been associated with a holy person (in particular saints) that are preserved and venerated. The practice declined after Vatican II, but most churches will have a relic of the patron saint in the church (typically in the altar). relics are divided into classes. A first class relic is generally some part of the person. It could be hair, a bit of bone or the entire body. A second class relic is typically a possession of the person. A third class relic is generally something that touched the person. Relics were quite a business in the Middle Ages and became something of a center for abuse. Nonetheless, many people continued to venerate these objects and this pastor not only venerated relics, but collected them. What we were watching was the latest additions to his collection being delivered.

As he shook out the containers onto his desk, he was separating them into piles as he read the documents of authenticity. I could hear him mentioning the name of each saint and the relic class. He would also examine some of the relics and smile if it was a particularly good one. I had this flashback to opening a pack of baseball cards as a kid and hunting for the elusive Reggie Jackson card...

It was amusing and sad at the same time. The man truly was locked in a time warp. We were done in short order and took our leave. That dog bade us a very angry farewell.

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