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Relics from Jesus’ manger find new home at Holy Family Church

Close up view 'Relics Holy Family' - fragments Christ's manger Bethlehem St. Joseph's cloak Mary's veil installed Holy Family Church

Close up view of "Relics of the Holy Family" - fragments of Christ's manger in Bethlehem, St. Joseph's cloak and Mary's veil, installed at Holy Family Church, Sunday, December 30, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 1, 2013 6:18AM

After traveling a few blocks to their new home, fragments of the manger that held baby Jesus were on display Sunday morning at Holy Family Church — shedding new light on the little-known relics, which have been housed in Chicago since 1972.

The relics, which are encased next to scraps of fabric of St. Joseph’s cloak and Mary’s veil, were transferred earlier this week from the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii at Lexington and Racine, where they’ve been for four decades.

The Rev. Richard Fragomeni, pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii, drove the relics over, along with documents from the Vatican verifying their authenticity.

Sunday’s veneration of the relics coincide with Holy Family Church’s 155th anniversary.

They were shown only until 6:30 p.m., after which they were to be safely locked away between special appearances on feast days, parish spokesman Richard Barry said. While on display, they rest in a special stand on the altar. The next viewing will be at Easter.

“I had no idea they were in Chicago, and I’ve been at this parish for 11 years,” said the Rev. Jerry Boland, Holy Family’s pastor, who grew up on the South Side.

For years, Boland said, the Shrine of Pompeii and its relics were near the heart of a predominantly Italian community. “The parishes were very independent, and the shrine is the center of Italian culture.

Such a relic transfer between churches, even neighboring ones, was unlikely.

“There wasn’t a lot interaction among parishes, and now that has changed,” Boland said. “Now we visit one another’s churches.”

Over the last few decades, ethnic demarcation lines have largely faded, along with the attitudes that created them.

Fragomeni thought it appropriate that the relics of the holy family reside at their namesake church and suggested that the transfer should coincide with the 155th anniversary of the church, Chicago’s second oldest.

“This is sort of a gesture of healing in a new era,” said Boland, who has received dozens of phone calls enquiring about the relics since the story recently hit the news.

“A woman from Minneapolis who learned about it on the morning news called and told me, ‘There’s no way I can get there by 6:30.’ I told there will be other opportunities.”

Some parishioners openly wept at mass, Boland said.

Before coming to Chicago, the holy objects were housed at the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

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