Thousands of Roman Catholics in Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities have been lining up in recent weeks to view the glass-sided casket containing the remains of St. Maria Goretti, the youngest person ever canonized a saint.
This weekend, the casket that also features a wax statue of the 11-year-old Italian martyr will be on display at Charlotte’s St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. Busloads of the faithful are expected at the parish Saturday (Oct. 24) and early Sunday (Oct. 25) for public veneration of her relics – that is, to pay respect to her skeletal remains.
In 1902, Goretti was stabbed to death by a neighbor for resisting his attempted rape of her. On her deathbed, reports a Catholic website promoting the sacred tour, she forgave her attacker, Alessandro Serenelli, and said she wanted him to be with her in heaven.
“During his prison sentence Maria appeared to Alessandro and forgave him,” according to the website. “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 where grace entered his heart. From that point on, he lived a beautiful and converted life of holiness, eventually becoming a Franciscan lay brother.”
It was this story of forgiveness by Goretti – also called “The Little Saint of Great Mercy” and the “Patroness of Purity” – that convinced the Vatican that a tour of her remains would be a good way to prepare U.S. Catholics for the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy. Proclaimed by Pope Francis, it will begin Dec. 8 – the day Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the church’s teaching that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was conceived without original sin.
Goretti was canonized a saint in 1950. This is the first time her remains have left Italy for the United States, where three of Goretti’s brothers later emigrated.
The tour bus carrying her casket is scheduled to arrive – with police escort – at St. Thomas Aquinas between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Following a 10 a.m. Mass in Latin – the language of the Mass that Goretti experienced – public viewing will begin. It will continue until 7:30 a.m. Sunday, with breaks for English-speaking Masses at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
The church will be open all night, with security provided by St. Thomas Aquinas, which is in the University City area at 1400 Suther Road.
Though none of Goretti’s remains will be visible, her skeletal remains repose within the wax statue, a likeness of her lying in state.
“I hope that the people find great blessing in the encounter,” said the Rev. Patrick Winslow, the pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas. “I think the message of her witness both to virtue and to mercy are greatly needed, are inspiring and ... are heroic.”
Non-Catholics who might not understand Catholics’ veneration for the relics of saints should think of it as drawing close to loved ones who have died, said Winslow.
“In the family of the (Catholic) church, that means the saints ... those who bore witness by the holiness of their lives,” he said. “It’s a connection to the sacred.”
Goretti’s casket will be coming to Charlotte from Greensboro –the only other North Carolina stop in what is being called the “Pilgrimage of Mercy.” The remains will be at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, 2205 W. Market St., from 10 a.m. to 11:50 p.m. Friday (Oct. 23).
The Associated Press contributed.
Want to go?
A glass-lined casket containing the relics, or skeletal remains, of St. Maria Goretti will be on public display Saturday (Oct. 24) and early Sunday (Oct. 25) at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 1400 Suther Road, Charlotte.
Public viewing and veneration of the relics will begin after a 10 a.m. Mass (in Latin) Saturday and continue until a 7:30 a.m. Mass (in English) Sunday. The church will also celebrate Mass (in English) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.