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.
In March 2015, 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.
America is intimately bound with St. Maria Goretti’s story. The same week that she died, her mother had to give up all five remaining children to adoption, as without her daughter’s assistance she could no longer provide for them. The family lived in conditions of grinding poverty. When her father died tragically of malaria—when Maria was only nine years old—it fell to her mother to work the farm they were renting and to support the family. As a result, Maria had to take over her mother’s place in the home, doing all the cooking, all the cleaning, and the raising of her five brothers and sisters. When Maria was murdered, there was no one left to take her place. Her mother could not both work the farm and raise her family. Thus, the same week that Maria died, her mother had to give up all five remaining children to adoption. Three of Maria’s brothers, Angelo, Mariano, and Alessandro, immigrated to the US and were processed in New York at Ellis Island. Alessandro tragically died of pneumonia about a year after his arrival. However, Angelo and Mariano settled in New Jersey and there started families. Although Mariano eventually moved back to Italy, there are still Goretti’s throughout the northeastern USA today that are his and Angelo’s descendants.
During the Second World War, the city of Nettuno (the town where St. Maria’s body reposes in the Basilica named after her) was the site of a massive landing of US soldiers. They had come to liberate the area of its German occupation. In February 1944, the American forces were surrounded by the Germans for a week and suffered heavy casualties. Nevertheless, they fought with incredible bravery and, not only were they able to liberate the region, they moved on to Rome which was also subsequently liberated. Today, not far from the Basilica is the American Cemetery and Memorial where more than 7,800 American soldiers are interred.
During the time that they were present in Nettuno, the American soldiers taught baseball to the locals. As a result, Nettuno is regarded as the baseball capital of Italy, with the local team, the Nettuno Baseball Club, having the record for the most national championships.
Finally, Cardinal Francis Spellman, the Archbishop of New York and famous American Churchman, had a very well-known devotion to St. Maria Goretti. A great promoter of her life, he arranged for the house where she was martyred to be repaired and restored, paying a substantial portion of the costs. Today, a beautiful marble plaque stands next to the exact place where St. Maria received her fatal wounds.
Translated from the Italian the plaque reads:
On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the passing of
St. Maria Goretti
Through the munificence of the Eminent Cardinal Francis Spellman
Archbishop of New York
Of the American Association of the Knights of Malta
And of Mister John S. Burke of New York,
This humble house was restored
With greatest care
And was returned to its state during the time of the
The Passionist Fathers are grateful.
To bring St. Maria to America thus became a logical choice. According to Fr. Martins, “I know that St. Maria’s visit to America will inaugurate extraordinary grace. I have no doubt that she will desire to repay this great country for all the good that it has done for her.”
This is the first time that St. Maria Goretti’s body will travel to the United States. It is only the second time that she has left Italy. Because of his two decades of experience in promoting the saints and their sacred remains all over the world, and because of his personal devotion to St. Maria Goretti, Fr. Carlos Martins, CC, was approached by Rome 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 Fr. Martins as the Director.
Not at all. Catholics worship neither the saints nor their relics. St. Jerome, the Church Father, puts it most succinctly in his famed Letter to Riparius: “We do not worship relics, we do not adore them, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator. But we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are.” (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).
The practice of praying to the saints is one of the most often made criticisms against Catholicism by our Protestants brothers. But it is rooted in a misunderstanding of what it means “to pray”. The verb “to pray” means “to ask”. It does not mean “to worship”, which the Catholic Church teaches is due to God alone. If someone—anyone—makes a request of you, such as someone on the street who asks you for the time, then he has just prayed to you! Don’t believe it? Just check the dictionary.
Shakespeare used the word prithee very often in his plays. The word “prithee” is a contraction of the words “I pray thee,” which is equivalent to saying, “I ask you.” In Act 3, Scene 4 of MacBeth, for example, MacBeth “prays” to Lady MacBeth when he asks her to look at the ghost which has suddenly appeared: “Prithee, see there! Behold!”
Praying to the saints is a good and holy practice. Within his epistles, Paul often asks the Christians to whom he is writing to pray for him. He did not view their prayers as superfluous, and he did not regard it as sufficient merely to pray to God on his own behalf. Paul likewise interceded on behalf of all. The logical question to ask then is, why should this intercession of one Christian for another stop at death? Christians believe that, for the holy, death is a birth into glory, a glory into which holy souls enter into the fullness of the identity and power for which they were created. It is absurd that those who are experiencing the glory of heaven would possess even less power and ability than they had on earth. How could they lack in heaven a power that they possessed here, before their glorification??? Thus, to deny that the saints hear our prayers and intercede on our behalf is an absurdity.
Remember: all those who assist the saints can count on their special intercession.
Yes, absolutely. There have been many, many healings since the time of her death.
A description of the contents of the reliquary can be found here.
The relics are inside a sealed crystal reliquary and, therefore, cannot be touched directly. While it is true that God works healing in the presence of relics, and that touch is the manner in which that healing comes about (as described here), it is not necessary to touch the relics directly. It is sufficient that the glass itself be touched to receive any and every grace God desires to give through the means of the relics.
As explained here, an object of devotion that is touched to a relic, with the intention that it be made a relic, in fact becomes one.
Touching pictures of family members to the reliquary is a symbolic way of entrusting those family members to St. Maria Goretti and, as such, is an act of intercession on their behalf. Rest assured, St. Maria will respond to such actions by praying for them.
Yes, they become third class relics. More information is here.
The body will be at most locations for a single day. A few parishes will host St. Maria for two days.
Yes. The body will visit numerous parochial schools as well as several prisons.
The visit to prisons is especially appropriate given that it was inside his prison cell that St. Maria’s murderer, Alessandro Serenelli, received an apparition of her in which she extended forgiveness to him. That act of forgiveness and love filled Alessandro with light and with the Holy Spirit. It led to contrition for his crime and caused the dramatic conversion of his heart.
Within his ministry of promoting the saints, Fr. Carlos Martins, Director of the Pilgrimage of Mercy, has witnessed how touched people are by this forgiveness that St. Maria extended to Alessandro, a forgiveness which subsequently gave her mother the strength to also forgive him. In Fr. Martins’ words, “Time and again I have seen victims of rape, sexual abuse, injustice, and violence of all kinds, approach me and share how St. Maria’s witness gave them the strength to do likewise to their abusers. The letters I have received which testify to the witness she has had on their lives occupies two large crates. While the world knows only the instinct and language of revenge and retaliation, St. Maria Goretti calls us to forgiveness which, as the very heart of God, brings healing to both victim and offender . This is a message that prison inmates, who often view themselves as unforgivable, need to hear.”
The last stop on the 2015 leg of the tour will be a death row prison. This is an especially fitting end to the tour’s first half. In such a place, where incarceration and execution appears to have the final word, the presence of the body of the Patroness of Mercy and Forgiveness will echo the true word spoken by the Eternal Word: LIFE![Note: Since the prison stops are not open to the public, they are not listed on the official schedule.]