This story was originally published in Newsday on Oct. 7, 2006.
As the heart of a saint flew over the Atlantic Ocean Friday, the Rev. Charles Mangano hurriedly prepared his Merrick church for the relic's arrival.
After a long day spent overseeing the cleaning of every inch of his 80-year-old church, Mangano was expected to meet late Friday night at an area airport with Guy Bagnard, the bishop of Belley, Ars-France, who carried with him the sacred relic that has only left France once before.
Thousands are expected to flock to the Curé of Ars Church beginning Saturday to venerate the heart of St. Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney, a French priest who died in 1859 at age 73. When his body was exhumed 45 years later, Vianney's heart was still intact. Those on hand will also be able to view the chalice that he used during his services, which drew hundreds of worshipers.
Vianney spent 40 years as a priest and was known for spending hours hearing confessions, and also to have demonstrated the gifts of prophecy and miracle-working. His tiny parish annually drew 20,000 pilgrims.
Church volunteers spent much of Friday washing windows and floors, preparing for the throng of Roman Catholics that are expected to come to the church during the next four days. The church, at 2323 Merrick Ave., is bracing for particularly long lines Saturday.
"Every Catholic in the New York metropolitan area is probably going to show up," said Fred Cicetti, a church spokesman.
The public will be allowed in the church two at a time to view the relic displayed in a glass and bronze box at the altar.
The process of bringing the relic to Curé of Ars began a year ago when Mangano was in France for a conference of priests. He persuaded Bagnard to bring the relic to Merrick to celebrate his parish's 80th anniversary and because it's the first American church named after the Curé of Ars in France.
A long-planned wedding scheduled for Saturday will go on. Though the bride was concerned about a conflict, Mangano said he assured her the church could handle both her wedding and the relic. Mangano said he told the worried bride that the church would be looking beautiful for both events.
The public will be able to view the relic Saturday and Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. On Sunday, it is open only to members of the Curé of Ars Church, and on Monday it will be open only to clergy.
Parking is available at an adjacent temple and at a church across the street. The Long Island Rail Road's Merrick stop is a half-block away.