St. Jude’s booming 75th

The St. Jude Shrine inside St. Dominic's Church.

By Stedman F. Matthew

More than 60,000 people visit the St. Jude Shrine at St. Dominic’s Church every year to light a candle, say a prayer and seek solace from their suffering. The shrine — founded by the Dominican friars in 1935 in the middle of the Great Depression to bring hope to a world that desperately needed it — is celebrating its 75th anniversary on October 28. Its mission continues unchanged — and gains new potency — as we find ourselves once again in the midst of a financial crisis.

Two years ago I joined the Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus as chief administrative officer after 13 years as parish administrator of St. Dominic’s. In these two years, I have been impressed by the intensity of devotion people feel for St. Jude. For them, he truly is “the saint for desperate and difficult cases” and “the saint of the impossible.”

There has been a resurgence of devotion as the economy has cratered over the last couple of years. Judging by the tone and content of letters we receive — and the growth in the number of pilgrims who visit the shrine — the increased intensity reflects the desperation caused by loss of homes, jobs and general dislocation.

The rise in devotion to St. Jude has led some to liken it to a cult. Some even associate him with Mexico’s cultish Saint of Death, which has of late seen a surge in popularity. The New York Times recently posted a video on its website, “Streetwise Saint Joins Mexico Drug War,” in which it describes how thousands of Mexico City gang youth have begun making monthly pilgrimages carrying candles, rosaries and effigies of St. Jude as the unofficial local patron saint of addicts.

Unfortunately, public confusion over this and other reports has spawned disquieting phone calls and letters to us from true devotees of St. Jude who are upset that the local shrine might be somehow associated with narco-gangs — however far-fetched the connection — or that faithful Catholics are regarded in some quarters as cultists.

In fact, we remain what we have always been: a ministry of hope in a world woefully in need of it. There are shrines to St. Jude in New York, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and other places around the world.

The story is told with brio in the book “Jude: A Pilgrimage to the Saint of Last Resort,” by the television journalist Liz Trotta. She will come from New York this month to participate in our 75th anniversary celebration. She will give a lecture on her pilgrimage through Turkey following the trail of Jude at St. Dominic’s on October 27 at 7:30 p.m.

St. Dominic’s Shrine of St. Jude sponsors an annual pilgrimage that draws thousands of people from across California and parts of Central and South America. They walk for miles through the streets of San Francisco to the Shrine of St. Jude, for mass and a celebration. This year’s pilgrimage of approximately seven miles will be on Saturday, October 23. It starts at St. Finn Barr’s Church at 415 Edna Street in San Francisco.