Priceless religious relics lost on flight to Sydney
A holy row has broken out after an airline carrying the priceless relics of three Catholic saints lost them for several days.
Catholic leaders waiting at Sydney Airport on January 22 were left gobsmacked when Singapore Airlines staff informed them the relics of St Therese of Lisieux and her parents, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, had been lost in transit.
St Therese of Lisieux's forearm was contained in one box, known as a reliquary, and the forearms of her parents were together in one other reliquary.
In a major operation that was two years in the making, the reliquaries were coming for a four-month pilgrimage around the country.
The journey will include fire ravaged communities in NSW and Victoria and an unveiling at St Marys Cathedral in Sydney.
Singapore Airlines claims they initially had no idea of the cargo's significance because it was marked "general cargo" - cheaper than the "priority cargo" category.
But the French caretaker of the relics, Jean-Paul Nguyen, let fly at the airline.
"I am very dissatisfied with the management of Singapore Airlines company concerning the reliquaries but I am especially sorry for the Catholics of your country who have been waiting for the arrival of the saints for a long time," Mr Nguyen told The Sunday Telegraph.
"I will no longer be able to trust this company which did not realise the importance of the journey of the reliquaries."
Each reliquary weighs about 100kg and comprises an ornate box about 1m long, 60cm wide and 40cm deep.
Despite their incredible historical and religious value, the coffinesque items are required to be checked.
The items travelled as unaccompanied cargo, with staff waiting at Sydney Airport to receive the reliquaries.
"It was one of those moments when something so simple became very complicated," Catholic Mission national director Brian Lucas said.
"This (circumstance) is very rare and I have never heard of any instance of something going wrong in the transportation (or relics).
"It was a surprising thing but many of us have had the experience of lost luggage."
Compounding the calamity, St Therese of Lisieux was separated from her parents, with her reliquary arriving on SQ221 at 07.10am Thursday - one day late.
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin remained in Singapore until they arrived on SQ221 on Saturday, January 25 at 7.40am - three days late.
The relics of the saints had originally travelled from Paris on SQ0335 from Paris departing January 20 and were due to arrive January 22.
The two reliquaries were separated because of space restrictions on the plane.
"Due to operational requirements some cargo had to be offloaded in Singapore," a Singapore Airlines spokesman said.
"Unfortunately as this shipment had been booked as general cargo one part of the shipment remained in Singapore awaiting transport on the next available flight, while the other part of the shipment continued to Sydney.
"When we were made aware of the significance of the shipment, arrangements to carry it on the first available flight from Singapore to Sydney were made.
"We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience."
The relics are insured for an undisclosed sum.
The relic of St Therese of Lisieux was last in Australia 18 years ago.
That time the reliquary travelled with Qantas, however Mr Lucas said French Catholics wanted the remains to travel with Singapore Airlines.
"St Therese of Lisieux is one of the most popular saints for her message of simple love," Mr Lucas said.
"Her message was to just do the ordinary things in life well."
Therese was born in France January 2, 1873 to parents Marie-Azélie Guérin and Louis Martin.
Therese lived her life in the Carmelite convent in Lisieux and died of tuberculosis at age 24.
Therese was made a saint in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, only 28 years after her death.
On October 18, 2015, Marie-Azélie Guérin and Louis Martin were also canonised as Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, becoming the first spouses in the church's history to be canonised as a couple.