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Campus ministry celebrates saint whose relic resides in Basilica

| Friday, October 30, 2015

Underneath the high altar of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart rests a relic of St. Marcellus, a Roman centurion martyred in 298 A.D. for refusing to deny his Catholic faith.

Campus Ministry hosted its annual prayer service for St. Marcellus on Thursday night in the Basilica to remember and celebrate the martyr and all he represents.

Fr. Peter Rocca, rector for the Basilica, said St. Marcellus refused to offer incense to an idol in honor of the emperor’s birthday during his time as a soldier in Tangiers, Morocco. He was put on trial for his disobedience and ultimately sentenced to death for his refusal to renounce his Christian faith. Oct. 30 is the feast day of St. Marcellus.

“The story goes that he stood in front of the standards of his legion — the legion’s flags — and then made a public declaration that he was a Christian and could no longer keep the oath that he had made to serve the emperor,” Rocca said.

The Basilica is also home to the relics of members of the Theban Legion, including its chief, St. Maurice. During the rule of Diocletian, a time of Christian persecution, the legion was instructed to kill a group of Christians they encountered. Many of the soldiers believed in the Christian faith and refused to follow orders, choosing to die instead.

“These men, many of whom were martyrs, gave their lives for Christ,” Rocca said. “They point, not to themselves, but they point to their commitment to Jesus Christ, their faith in Jesus Christ. We need those kind of reminders, I think, in our daily lives.”

Alan Kreider, professor emeritus at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, recounted the martyrdom of St. Marcellus at the prayer service. Rocca said a large number of Mennonites travel to the Basilica from Goshen, Indiana, each year to participate in the prayer service.

“The Mennonites have almost adopted St. Marcellus in particular as a patron saint of their commitment to pacifism,” Rocca said. “ … They come all the way here, sometimes walking on foot, from Goshen, Indiana, to offer their prayers to God in front of the icon of St. Marcellus.”

At the prayer service, Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, associate professor of theology and peace studies, delivered the 2015 St. Marcellus Day Address.

St. Marcellus is considered the patron saint of conscientious objectors, which aligns with values Notre Dame hopes to instill in its students, Rocca said.

“I think [St. Marcellus] is very important and relevant to students because he was willing to stand up for what he believed in, no matter what the cost might be,” Rocca said. “He had the courage to profess his faith in Christ, to speak the truth, to be a real witness to Jesus and his beliefs. I think we need models of people like that today.”

During the years of Christian persecution, Mass was often celebrated in Roman catacombs on the tombs of martyrs, Rocca said. He said relics are often placed under altars in observance of this tradition. Fr. Sorin brought the relics of St. Marcellus, St. Maurice, the Theban Legion and many other saints to the University from his trips to Rome during the 1860s.

“These relics are visible, tangible signs that speak to — in this case — the sacrifice that the individual made for his belief in Jesus Christ,” Rocca said.

Rocca said St. Marcellus provides an example to guide students faced with making decisions.

“I think too often we are hesitant to speak up, hesitant to do the right thing, hesitant to say the right thing,” Rocca said. “It’s a matter of taking to heart what we profess as Christians and living it out in our daily lives. And sometimes it will mean disagreeing with friends.

“I would hope and think that all of our graduates would have the guts and the courage to say and do the right thing, just like St. Marcellus.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, the Observer's current Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's a former Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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