Last Monday, October 12, the IRL sponsored a pilgrimage to St. John Cantius Church in Chicago to see and venerate the relics of St. Maria Goretti (1890-1902), the well-beloved saint of purity and forgiveness. The relics are contained in a beautiful glass casket that all are encouraged to approach and kneel before, asking for Maria’s intercession. Along with the relics is a very interesting set of panels describing Maria’s short life and death. The crowds were large but it was so well-organized that it was a very prayerful experience.
This is the first time that Maria’s body has traveled to the United States and only the second time that she has left Italy. The tour began fittingly enough at Sing Sing Prison in New York. It will end on November 11, 2015, in Oklahoma. Click here for the schedule.
On December 8th, the Church will inaugurate the Jubilee Year of Mercy. There is no better embodiment of the spirit of mercy than St. Maria Goretti who on her deathbed forgave her attacker and murderer, Alessandro Serenelli. Not only forgave, she hoped to see him in heaven. While in prison, he experienced a conversion of heart after Maria appeared to him and handed him 14 white lilies, one for each of her stab wounds, and a sign of her forgiveness.
The crowds for Maria’s canonization in 1950 were so large that the Mass was held, for the first time ever, in St. Peter’s Square. Her mother, though frail, was able to attend. After Alessandro’s death, his spiritual testament was found in which he said: “Now I look serenely to the time in which I will be admitted to the vision of God, to embrace my dear ones once again, and to be close to my guardian angel, Maria Goretti, and her dear mother, Assunta.”
Alessandro became a model prisoner and after his early release, became a Capuchin Franciscan lay brother. He also visited Maria’s mother, who told him in essence: “Maria forgives you, God forgives you. How could I not forgive you?”
Forgiveness, as so powerfully witnessed by St. Maria in her final hours, does not mean that we fail to acknowledge the seriousness and all too often devastating effects of harm done to others. Rather, forgiveness recognizes that, in our hearts, when we are unable to forgive, we make ourselves a victim of the darkness that encompasses hatred and revenge. Through the intercession of St. Maria, may this pilgrimage open the hearts and minds of many people to Jesus’ life changing gifts of mercy and forgiveness.
–Cardinal Sean O’Malley
Archbishop of Boston