TRUMBULL – The major relics, or earthly remains, of Saint Maria Goretti, the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church, will be at St. Theresa Church on Oct. 6. Of the 18 states on the eight-week pilgrimage of her body, Saint Theresa Parish will be the only stop in Connecticut.
“This will be tremendous. It’s an extraordinary privilege,” noted Father Brian Gannon, pastor of St. Theresa’s. “I like to think it’s been granted by heaven.”
Indeed, the whole tour is extraordinary because this is only the second time her body has left Italy. Her complete skeletal remains, except for a small amount of bone for reliquaries and her right arm, which is in a church in the town where she was born, are within a wax statue of her likeness inside a glass-sided casket. Saint Maria used her right arm to defend her purity in the attack.
The tour is officially called the “Pilgrimage of Mercy.”
Maria Goretti, an extremely popular saint, is the patroness of purity and also the patroness of mercy. Only 11 years old when she died on July 6, 1902, she was stabbed 14 times during a horrendous rape attempt. In the hospital and dying, her last words were of mercy and forgiveness towards her attacker: “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”
It was the kind of forgiveness that years later Pope Saint John Paul II showed the man who tried to assassinate him.
Father Gannon read her story years ago and always admired her courage, faith, and holy concern for the soul of her assailant even in the midst of his violent attack on her. “She was more worried about his soul than about her physical life,” he said.
Because she is a model of forgiveness and mercy, the pilgrimage comes purposely as a forerunner to the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has declared to begin on Dec. 8. The Vatican’s Congregation of the Causes of Saints, her basilica, and Treasures of the Church apostolate organized it to prepare people in the United States for this great celebration.
“Mercy is something the modern mind has forgotten,” said Father Carols Martins, the director of the tour and expert biographer of Maria Goretti.
Father Gannon said, "Maria Goretti is a great sign and hope of what sexuality is all about — that is it ultimately sacred and holy and a gift from God. Saint Maria Goretti reminds us of that in a culture that sees it as a commodity.”
He explained that she has “so much to teach us about the sacredness of human sexuality and to perceive that our highest priority is to preserve the sanctity of our souls in relation to God, even if it is at the cost of our physical life. By giving her life in such a pure and holy sacrifice to Christ, now millions are touched and inspired by her incredible witness and deeply moved to follow Christ and also share her heroic story with others.”
Father Gannon thinks this visit will affect countless lives “because she’s real, and a real hero,” he said.
“She will inspire children to a deeper appreciation and sacredness of human intimacy and the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit,” he explained. “She’ll also inspire people in this time of division in families to recall that forgiveness in even the most unjust circumstances liberates us from useless revenge and engenders powerful conversions and deep holiness."
“Her courage and willingness to forgive are so central to this,” Father Gannon emphasized.
Father Martins also believes many miracles will happen on this tour. “I’ve been teaching about Maria Goretti and familiar with Maria for a long time,” he said. “I see many miracles before my eyes.”
Public veneration of Saint Maria Goretti will begin at 10 a.m.; a solemn Mass in her honor will be celebrated at 7 .pm.; veneration continues until 11:45 p.m. Saint Theresa is at 5301 Main St. See MariaGoretti.com for tour information.