As the coronavirus pandemic grips the world, a church in Michigan is turning to medicine that does not come in a bottle or syringe: prayer and veneration of a relic of St. Corona, whose intercession the faithful have in recent years implored as patron saint for those suffering from epidemics — and from the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Her relic will be displayed alongside a relic of her husband, St. Victor, at Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church in Livonia, Michigan. There will be a two-hour devotion following 9am Mass on the last Saturday of every month, beginning on Sept. 26.
The relics of the saints who were martyred one right after the other in the year 170, are recent additions to the collection of 149 saints and around 200 relics that are part of the All Saints Shrine (AllSaintsShrine.com) housed at Sacred Heart church and collected by the pastor, Father Joseph Marquis. “It’s God’s providence right now that we have this saint in Church history — a martyr and a saint against viruses,” Father Marquis told the Register. “She was resolute in her faith in Christ, at the cost of her blood.”
Father Marquis’ devotion to the saints began in childhood with a deep love of St. Nicholas. Seeking the relics of St. Nicholas a few years ago started him collecting others, especially saints from the early Church. This past spring, he learned of St. Victor, a martyred Roman solider, and obtained the relic of his vertebrae in July. “He’s the oldest one in the martyr chronology with the name Victor,” Father Marquis said. “I had been looking for an early Church martyr; and all of a sudden, I realized who St. Victor was, the husband of St. Corona.”
Although information is scant, Father Marquis found both St. Corona and St. Victor listed in the Roman martyrology and hagiographical documents of the Church. “The majority of reliable sources,” he explained, “place them as residing in Damascus, Syria, which was under imperial Roman authority in the late second century A.D. They were executed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) by order of a local Roman judge named Sebastian.”
Father Marquis put together a write-up on his findings summarized here:
“Traditional accounts recall a beheading involving a Christian soldier within the Imperial Roman Army named Victor condemned to death for his faith in Jesus of Nazareth. Upon learning that Victor was a committed Christian, a fellow comrade-in-arms reported him to Sebastian, a judge who deeply despised all followers of Christ. Sebastian found Victor guilty of treason and made an example of him. Despite the tortures which included his eyes being gouged out and being bound to a pillar and lashed with a flagrum until his flesh hung from his body, Victor would not deny his faith in the risen Christ. His young wife, Corona, who had also been arrested for her faith and forced to watch, broke free from the grip of two soldiers. She fell to her knees at her husband’s side, calling down the powers of heaven to sustain him. Corona was forced to watch his decapitation just prior to going to her own death. Roman executioners promptly brought the young woman to her place of execution, where she was ordered to stand between two tall palm trees. They tied her arms at the wrists to each tree flanking either side of her body. The tops of the two trees, previously bent down to the ground by ropes, were each secured by large wooden stakes. At the signal of Sebastian, the executioners cut ropes. In an instant, the trees sprang away from each other to their normal upright position. The force was so great that Corona’s arms were violently torn out of their sockets. Shock caused by the extreme trauma led to her death.”
The relics of St. Corona and St. Victor were rediscovered during excavation work at Germany’s Aachen Cathedral in 1910. They were removed from a crypt and placed in a shrine inside the cathedral.
A renewed devotion to St. Corona under the title “Protector From Plagues” was popularized in Italy in late 2002, when the corona SARS pandemic threatened the health of humans for the first time. Before that, SARS had only been found in animals. People in Italy appealed to her again in 2020 to pray against the virus that has her name. (“Corona” is derived from Latin meaning “crown” or “wreath,” which the virus’ shape resembles.)
“Getting the relics of these two saints blows me away,” Father Marquis said. “There’s nothing special about our parish, and yet the saints are rushing in. The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. They give us a point of contact, like when we go to the cemetery, we feel close to our loved ones.” According to Father Marquis, their examples and their presence and prayers can inspire us to ask the Lord for the grace to stand up for our own faith in the face of attacks.
“As we face the challenges imposed by the global epidemic,” he stated, “we unite our prayers and supplications with our sisters and brothers in Christ and ask St. Corona to assist us in this historic time of crisis.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.
Teaching on Relics
The Catholic Church teaches that saints in heaven are the cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:21, trusting in the power of their prayers: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Along with Catholic belief in the power of the saints’ intercession comes the veneration of relics, which are a tangible connection to our brothers and sisters in heaven. Venerating them dates back to the beginning of Christianity and is confirmed in Scripture. The bones of Elisha raised a dead man to life in 2 Kings 13:21; and in Acts 19:12, people were healed through handkerchiefs and cloths that had been touched to St. Paul. “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history,” according to the Catechism (828). We understand that all power comes through God, but we believe he can work through the saints, our “models and intercessors.”
Prayer to St. Corona in a Time of Epidemic
Lord Jesus Christ, you came into this world for our salvation. Look kindly on us now, we pray, that we, and all those who serve you, might be kept safe from this epidemic.
Heal those who are sick, comfort the suffering, bring back those who have gone astray, and, above all, increase our faith, O Lord.
Give us the grace to follow you and, like the martyr St. Corona, who gave her life for love of you, to take up our crosses daily without fear or hesitation.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
St. Corona, patroness of epidemic victims, pray for us.
Copies of St. Corona prayer cards are available at https://bit.ly/2YE0qRL.
— Patti Armstrong