The relics of an Italian priest -- who was elevated to Catholic sainthood for his work in the 19th century educating impoverished young boys and keeping them out of trouble through teachings based on love, not punishment -- are making a stop in San Francisco this weekend.

The remains of St. John Bosco, patron saint of stage magicians and founder of the Salesian Order of the Catholic Church, are traveling through the state as part of a five-year world pilgrimage to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the saint's birth and his work as a minister to the young.

The relics displayed during the spiritual tour are recomposed from an urn that has contained Bosco's remains since 1929, when he was exhumed as part of the beatification and canonization process. The bones and tissues of his right hand and arm have been placed within a replica of his body, which is enclosed in a large, clear urn created specifically for the tour.

The relics will arrive tonight at Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco and will remain there through the weekend before leaving Monday.

They first will travel through the streets of San Francisco to Corpus Christi Church. Then they will arrive in Watsonville on Tuesday.

From there, the relics will head to Southern California for their final West Coast visits before being flown to the East Coast.

The San Francisco parish has been preparing all week for the visit, celebrating special Masses and holding informational talks on the history of the Salesian movement. One priest said Archbishop George Niederauer summed up the relics' importance best at a celebratory Mass on Wednesday.

"He said, it's like all over the world, we have museums, we have things other people used, and we honor the tombs of famous people," said the Rev. Harold Danielson of Saints Peter and Paul Church. "We do that as well in the community of the disciples of Christ. We honor those who have gone before us."

The relics are expected to arrive at Saints Peter and Paul about 11:30 p.m. today after a stopover at Corpus Christi Church, also in San Francisco.

Several Sunday Masses are dedicated to the saint, including a 10:15 a.m. service celebrated by Bishop Emeritus Ignatius Wang.

As a boy raised in the Northern Italian village of Becchi, John Bosco, who is also called Don Bosco, performed as a juggler, magician and acrobat, and charged people a prayer for admission to his shows.

With the help of his mother, Mamma Margherita, Bosco began taking in orphans in 1847 and eventually grew his ministry to establish the Society of St. Francis de Sales, the beginning of the Salesian Order.

At the core of Bosco's ability to attract young people was an approach he came to call the "preventive system of education," which is based on reason, religion and kindness.

The Rev. Roy Shelly, of the Monterey Diocese, said Bosco's relics provide a wonderful opportunity for Catholics and others to renew and strengthen their faith by paying tribute to the saint.

"For thousands of years, prayer in the presence of holy relics has been a powerful means of opening oneself to the grace of the Holy Spirit, as modeled in the saints represented by their relics," he said. "I look forward to sharing in this experience of grace."

Salesians first arrived in the U.S. in San Francisco.

Bosco was born in August 1815 and died in January 1888. He was declared a saint in 1929 and canonized on Easter Sunday 1934.

His feast day falls on Jan. 31 each year.

Staff writer Michelle Maitre contributed to this story.

If you go
WHAT: Arrival of the relics of St. John Bosco
WHEN: 11:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Saints Peter and Paul Church, 666 Filbert St., San Francisco, followed by an all-night veneration
MASS SCHEDULE: Masses dedicated to the saint will be celebrated at 7:30 a.m., 8:45 a.m., 10:15 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. Sunday at the church
RELICS' DEPARTURE:
10 a.m. Monday
DETAILS: www.donbosco2010.org or www.stspeterpaul.san-francisco.ca.us. A Facebook page is available by searching "Don Bosco Relics."