About the Apostolate for Holy Relics

Since ancient times, Christians have preserved and honored physical objects associated with Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the holy men and women who are recognized as saints. These objects include items associated with Christ’s suffering and death, articles of clothing belonging to Mary, and the actual bodily remains of the saints themselves. These objects are commonly known as relics, and the practice of preserving and honoring them is known as veneration.

According to Christian law and practice, no person or group may "own" a holy relic. Rather, a person or group in possession of a relic is its temporary guardian, charged with safeguarding it until such time as custody of the relic is passed along to another individual or group who will then assume responsibility for its guardianship. In this way, relics are passed from one generation to the next.

As a devotional practice, the veneration of relics has enjoyed varying degrees of popularity over the centuries. In medieval times, for example, veneration of relics played a prominent role in the daily life of European Christians: oaths were sworn and vows were made in the presence of relics, which served as heavenly witnesses; relics were carried into battle, in the hope of securing divine aid and protection; persons afflicted with disease or with physical or mental infirmities were blessed with relics, which were viewed as instruments through which God could choose to effect miraculous healings; pilgrims seeking spiritual insight or divine favor undertook arduous journeys to famous pilgrimage sites where important relics were preserved; and traveling collections of relics were displayed in town after town as a means of instructing and inspiring the local populace. Artists fabricated richly decorated display cases, known as reliquaries, in which relics were safeguarded and displayed.

The once widespread practice of venerating relics has declined in recent times. Indeed, a number of parish churches, religious orders, and families, some of whom have served as guardians of relics for many generations, have sought a means by which they might dispose of these objects and thereby be relieved of their duties as guardians.

Educational Objectives and Activities

The organization’s educational activities are designed to increase appreciation and understanding of: (1) the origins and the nature of holy relics; (2) the historical and theological basis for veneration of relics; (3) the spiritual, historical, and artistic value of particular items in the collection; and (4) the lives and times of the individual saints who are associated with particular items in the collection.

Educational activities include: (1) organizing traveling exhibitions of items from the collection which will visit churches, schools, retreat houses, libraries, museums, and cultural centers; (2) sponsoring lectures, both in conjunction with exhibitions and independently; (3) commissioning, printing, and distributing books and pamphlets. It is the organization’s long term goal to establish a permanent site which will serve both as a museum for the display of the collection, and a religious shrine and place of pilgrimage.

Promotional Objectives and Activities

The goal of the organization’s promotional activities is to encourage a revival of the ancient practice of venerating relics. Veneration will be promoted as a living tradition which is capable of enriching the spiritual experience of contemporary Catholic and Orthodox Christians. The focus of the organization’s efforts will be to revive customs that were once common, but which have now fallen into disuse. These customs include the display of relics in churches and chapels, so that believers may pray individually, or together as a group, in their presence; the carrying of relics in processions, especially on festive occasions; the conferring of blessings on groups using relics as the instruments of blessing; and the blessing of individuals, especially those who are ill or in need, with the relics of patron saints or saints known to be intercessors for persons dealing with particular illnesses or needs.

Preservation Objectives and Activities

As previously noted, the widespread desire to dispose of relics, and the difficulty of finding willing guardians to accept custody of them, has become a subject of increasing concern in recent years. The most troubling phenomenon in this regard has been the appearance of holy relics on Internet auction sites, such as e-bay, where relics and their reliquaries are being offered for sale to the highest bidder. This practice is contrary to church law, and is deeply offensive to Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Some individuals have organized efforts to "rescue" relics by purchasing them at auction and then transferring custody to responsible guardians. Unfortunately, these efforts have proven to be very expensive, and have led a number of other individuals to express a concern that rescue efforts are simply "making a market" for relics, thereby encouraging speculators and bringing about even more auction activity.

The organization desires to encourage the preservation of relics for veneration by future generations, and to discourage the commercial exploitation of these sacred artifacts. The most effective way to achieve these twin goals, the organization has decided, is for the organization itself to become a guardian of relics.

It is intended that persons and organizations who donate artifacts to the organization will receive tax deductions. It is hoped that the availability of such deductions will encourage the reverent and responsible disposition of relics, and provide a financially viable alternative to disposition by auction for those custodians (such as family members or executors of estates of deceased guardians) for whom potential tax liability is a concern. Indeed, once the organization’s tax exempt status is established, periodic efforts will be made to contact persons offering relics for sale on the Internet to advise them of the organization’s goals and to invite them to donate the items being auctioned. Out of respect for differing viewpoints regarding the wisdom of "rescuing" relics by means of purchase, the organization will not use its own funds, whether donated or raised through its activities, for the purpose of acquiring items offered for sale. However, should individuals offer to donate items which they have "rescued" to the organization as gifts, such gifts will be accepted and corresponding tax deductions will be given. 

Origins of the Organization

In the early 1990s, Thomas J. Serafin, a Roman Catholic layman, became aware of this situation, and made a personal commitment to accept custody and assume responsibility for relics in need of a guardian. Over the past years, as Mr. Serafin’s commitment has become increasingly well known in both Catholic and Orthodox circles, over 1,200 individual relics have been entrusted to Mr. Serafin’s care. As the number of relics under Mr. Serafin’s guardianship has grown, so has Mr. Serafin’s international reputation as an author, lecturer, and expert on relics and their veneration.

Not content with leaving the relics in his care locked in a safe, Mr. Serafin has organized a number of exhibits of selected items from the collection. The largest of the early exhibits took place at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Museum in Glendale, California, between November 3, 2001, and January 27, 2002. As the collection has become better known, a number of individuals have offered financial and professional assistance in support of efforts to exhibit, promote, and preserve the collection. Desiring to take full advantage of these offers of assistance, Mr. Serafin developed the concept of a non-profit organization, the Apostolate for Holy Relics, which would utilize the collection, along with the talents and resources of many individuals, to increase appreciation of the spiritual, historical, and artistic value of relics, to promote the devotional veneration of relics, and to help preserve and safeguard relics for future generations.

Since then, the relics have been reviewed and authenticated by Church authorities prior to their first public tour in 2007, the Relics of the Passion have been venerated in more than 20 dioceses in the United States, Guam and the Philippines, where more than a million people came to see and venerate the rare relics.  Having a number of significant holy relics in one place is relatively rare and does not often take place outside the Holy Land or Rome.  The faithful have continually exhibited a significant level of participation and have conveyed sincere words of appreciation for the positive spiritual experience they have had during and after attending our programs.