SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio's World Heritage Mission churches draw visitors from all around the world. But one is increasingly attracting Catholics arriving for a saint's blessing.
Inside that smallest of San Antonio's historic mission churches is a holy object of great importance.
"We're really lucky to have a relic of St. John Paul here at Mission Espada," said Rebecca Simmons, executive director of Las Misiones, the nonprofit charged with preserving the churches.
"I see many come here and just sit and ask for help," added Deacon Albert Rodriguez.
A crucifix at Mission Espada contains part of a piece of clothing worn by St. John Paul II. During his historic visit to San Antonio in 1987, he presided over an outdoor mass attended by more than 350,000 people.
He was here for 23 hours, and did something many of us do when we travel: He left something behind.
In his case, it was a white undershirt.
"He left it in the bishop's residence where he had stayed overnight," said Rev. Herb Jones.
The rectory held on to the shirt. Thirteen years later, Jones was pastor at Mission San Jose, where he led an effort to restore an antique cross for Mission Espada. An expert was hired for the job.
"She wondered what type of special cloth she could use for the loincloth. She was made aware that there was a T-shirt of Pope John Paul II that had been at the rectory, so she asked for it and she created that loincloth," said Simmons.
The crucifix was hung above a prayer space. After Paul was canonized as a saint in 2014, Mission Espada encountered a problem: The loincloth was suddenly a holy relic, an object touched by a saint.
"We had the cross a little lower, but everyone would touch the loin cloth. It's something that's very special," Rodriguez said.
"They actually started snipping and taking threads of it, because who would not want a piece of a saint?" Simmons added.
The solution was to move the cross up to the ceiling.
Matteo Castillo, eucharistic minister at Mission Espada, is one of the many who have come to pray and ask St. John Paul to intercede on their behalf. He believes the holy relic is mystical.
"We just pray with our heart and our soul and we feel the little movement," he said. "Sometimes you feel it with your heart and soul. He's answering."
Word of the holy relic is spreading in the Catholic community and every week more of the faithful are coming, along with the everyday tourists who visit the World Heritage site.
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