On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the Basilica of Immaculate Conception, 121 E. Duval Street in downtown Jacksonville, will host the major relics of Saint Maria Goretti.
- Public veneration of Saint Maria will begin at 6 a.m. on Oct. 28
- The time of the Solemn Mass celebrated in Saint Maria’s honor is 7 p.m. The principle celebrant is Father Edward Murphy, pastor of the Basilica
- Public veneration will end at 5 a.m. on Oct. 29
- Daily Mass at 7:30 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. will be celebrated as scheduled
About Saint Maria Goretti
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 Catholic Church announces an extraordinary pilgrimage of the relics of saints. 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.
Saint Maria Goretti (1890-1902) is unique in that she is the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church. She died tragically at the age of 11. Born into poverty, her father moved the family 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. Her father died when she was just nine. 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 Maria’s virginity, and threatening her with violence for non-compliance, Alessandro forced himself upon her in an attempted rape. Though she prevented him from violating her, Allesandro brutally attacked her stabbing her numerous times. Maria died the next day in the midst of horrendous suffering brought on by her lacerations. Her last words were, “I forgive Allessandro Serenelli …and I want him in heaven with me forever.”
During his prison sentence Maria appeared to Allessandro and forgave him. That act of mercy and forgiveness – that act of love – filled Allessandro with contrition for his crime. It was also a turning point for him; afterwards he lived a beautiful life of holiness, and eventually became a Franciscan lay brother.
Saint Maria Goretti was canonized on June 24, 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Maria Assunta, her mother, was present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. She was the first parent ever to attend the canonization of her child.
Last March Pope Francis proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy. It will begin Dec. 8, 2015 and end Nov. 20, 2016. A tour with the sacred remains of Saint Maria Goretti became a natural choice for the Church to promote the Holy Year. While Saint 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, Saint Maria Goretti has been heralded as the Patroness of Mercy. Indeed, this beloved little girl, murdered at only 11 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, Saint 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 Saint Maria Goretti, Father Carlos Martins was approached by Rome about the feasibility of bringing her body on tour to America. Plans were immediately developed and a team was assembled to bring Saint Maria across the Atlantic, with Father Martins being appointed the director.
Of Special Note:
Saint Maria’s remains are inside a glass-sided casket. Inside the casket is a wax statue which contains her skeletal remains. To be clear, Saint Maria’s body is not incorrupt, and none of the sacred remains are visible. Nevertheless, the skeleton is complete, save for small amounts of bone that have been placed in reliquaries (containers), and her right arm which was donated by her mother to the Church of St. Nicholas (now known as the Sanctuary of St. Maria Goretti) in her birth town of Corinaldo. It was with her right arm that Maria defended her purity and prevented Alessandro Serenelli from raping her.
The Catholic tradition of venerating relics is not worship but a way to honor and draw near to the saints, and to petition for their prayers, since they are believed to be with God (Wisdom 3:1). For more information, visit www.mariagoretti.com/delta/about-relics or www.mariagoretti.com/frequently-asked-questions/.