The major relics of St. Maria Goretti will be available for veneration at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler on Nov. 2, 2015, Father Carlos Martins, CC, and Father Hank Lanik, rector of the Cathedral have announced.
With some 40 other locations around the country, Tyler, Dallas and Houston are the only locations chosen in Texas for the public veneration. This is the first time that St. Maria’s body will travel to the United States. It is only the second time that she has left Italy. Her body is kept in the crypt of the Basilica of Nostra Signora delle Grazie e Santa Maria Goretti in Nettuno, south of Rome.
The major announcement was made on July 6, the feast of St. Maria Goretti, who is considered to be the patron saint of chastity, rape victims, girls, youth, teenage girls, poverty, purity and forgiveness.
The relics will be displayed for the faithful from 9 a.m. on Nov. 2 until 1 a..m. on Nov. 3. Bishop Joseph E. Strickland will celebrate Solemn Mass in honor of St. Maria at 7 p.m.
From its very beginning the Catholic Church has regarded the relics of the saints as among its most sacred possessions. The source of this belief is divine revelation. The Word of God teaches that relics are connected with the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Paul informs us that the bodies of the holy are temples of the Holy Spirit, temples in whom He actually resides (1 Cor 6:9).
From time to time, typically on great and solemn occasions, the Church announces an extraordinary pilgrimage of the relics of a saint. This is to bring the blessing that comes from hearing anew the saint’s story, but also to provide an opportunity to obtain the grace that comes through venerating the saint’s relics. Both of these aspects are instruments through which God desires to convert the hearts of believers and work the miraculous in their lives.
St. Maria Goretti (1890-1902) is unique in that she is the youngest canonized saint in the Church. She died tragically at the age of eleven. Born into poverty, her father moved the family moved from the east side of Italy—near Ancona—to the Western side near Nettuno (some 40 miles south of Rome) in hopes of escaping the grinding poverty in his homeland. When she was nine her father died. It fell to her at that time to raise her five siblings while her mother worked the fields to produce the crops they would eat.
This was a terrible time of trial and suffering for the whole family, but especially for Maria. Aside from having the responsibility of caring for her family, she had to also cook and clean for her two next door neighbors. One of whom, a large 20-year-old man named Alessandro Serenelli, developed an impure liking to Maria and made repeated sexual advances towards her.
Finally, after many months of demanding her virginity, and threatening with violence for non-compliance, Alessandro forced himself upon her in an attempted rape. Though she prevented him from violating her, Alessandro brutally attacked her stabbing her numerous times. Maria would die the next day in the midst of horrendous suffering brought on by her lacerations. Her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli, and I want him in heaven with me forever.”
During his prison sentence Maria appeared to Alessandro and forgave him. That act of mercy and forgiveness—that act of love—filled Alessandro with contrition for his crime. It was also a turning point for him; afterwards he lived a beautiful life of holiness as a Franciscan lay brother.
The saint was canonized on June 24, 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Assunta, her mother, was present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. She was the first mother ever to attend the canonization ceremony of her child.
Last March Pope Francis proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy. It will run from December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016. A tour with the sacred remains of St. Maria Goretti became a natural choice for the Church to promote the Holy Year. While St. Maria is universally known as the Patroness of Purity, her greatest virtue was her unyielding forgiveness of her attacker even in the midst of horrendous physical suffering, a forgiveness that would completely convert him and set him on a path to personal holiness. From the time that she forgave her assassin, St. Maria Goretti has been heralded as the Patroness of Mercy. Indeed, this beloved little girl, murdered at only eleven years of age, is widely known as the Little Saint of Great Mercy. Her merciful and persistent forgiveness, and her desire to dedicate her life to God, made her a true disciple of Jesus. As such, St. Maria Goretti especially embodies what Pope Francis desires the entire Church to become.
Because of his two decades of experience in promoting the Saints and their sacred remains all over the world, and because of his devotion to St. Maria Goretti, Father Martins was approached by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints about the feasibility of bringing her body on a tour of America. Plans were immediately developed and a team was assembled to bring St. Maria across the Atlantic, with Father Martins being appointed the Director.