By Lou Baldwin
Catholic News Service
PHILADELPHIA – The major relics of St. Maria Goretti, known as the “patroness of purity,” are on a “pilgrimage of mercy” in the United States this fall.
It the first time that her body has been in the United States. Before the relics are scheduled to be flown back to Italy Nov. 13, they will have been venerated in close to 20 states, including Pennsylvania. According to the website http://mariagoretti.com, plans for a 2016 tour of the western half of the U.S. “are currently being studied.”
“It is a most wonderful thing to see a parish, a school, a prison renewed after an exposition,” said Father Carlos Martins, who is leading the pilgrimage. “This is the basis for this ministry’s existence, and I cannot wait to see where St. Maria will take it.”
The relics consist of virtually all of the skeletal remains of St. Maria, encased in a lifelike wax effigy within a glass-sided casket. Her relics are on tour while her major shrine in Netunno, Italy, is under renovation.
In keeping with Pope Francis’ declaration of the upcoming Year of Mercy, she was presented as a patroness of mercy, which seemed especially appropriate for the first stop: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in New York. The exposition, held Sept. 21, was not open to the public but gave inmates an opportunity to venerate the relics.
After the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, came stops during the World Meeting of Families in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, at St. Maria Goretti Church in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, Sept. 22; the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia Sept. 23, and at St. John the Evangelist Church in the center city Sept. 24-25.
St. Maria Goretti was an 11-year-old Italian child in 1902 when she was repeatedly stabbed while defending her virginity from a 20-year-old attacker, Alessandro Serenelli. As she lay dying the next day, she received the Eucharist and forgave him, saying, “I want to see him in heaven forever.”
Serenelli, who repented his crime while serving 27 years in prison, later entered a monastery. He was present for Maria’s canonization by Pope Pius XII in 1950, at which time she was presented to youth as a model of chastity.
At St. Maria Goretti Church in Hatfield, Father Andrew Brownholtz, pastor, said exposition and veneration lasted the entire day and included at least 25 priests coming for the celebration of Mass.
Over the course of the day, he estimated, thousands of people visited the church to venerate the relics of the parish’s patron saint.
The National Shrine of St. Rita was the first in the archdiocese to agree to host the pilgrimage. Reverencing the relics began after the noon Mass at the shrine and continued into the evening on Sept. 23, according to Augustinian Father Joseph Genito, pastor.
Meanwhile, visitation at the shrine picked up noticeably during the World Meeting of Families, including a busload of visitors from Australia with an archbishop and bishop celebrating Mass. Toward the end of that week, the shrine was booked solid for tours.
Because St. John the Evangelist Church is in center city, in addition to hosting the St. Maria Goretti relics for two days, the parish was booked solid with bishops, archbishops and a cardinal celebrating Masses for their pilgrims, according to Capuchin Franciscan Father John Daya, pastor.
In addition to those guests, on Sept. 24 a new oratorio, “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb,” was presented in the church, and the following day Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, who is the daughter of St. Gianna Molla and a physician, gave a presentation.