St. Maria Goretti, beloved by countless millions as a model of chastity and purity, has come to the United States on a “Pilgrimage of Mercy,” a tour that will run through 25 dioceses and span 18 states. It began on Sept. 21 and ends Nov. 13.
Very clearly, this tour — known officially as the “Pilgrimage of Mercy” — is a forerunner to the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis declared to begin on Dec. 8.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, St. Maria’s basilica in Italy and the ministry Treasures of the Church have put together the tour (visit MariaGoretti.com) in order for Americans to “meet” St. Maria as a model of forgiveness: The youngest canonized saint in the Church was only 11 years old when she died on July 6, 1902, after she was stabbed 14 times during a rape attempt.
As she lay dying in the hospital, her last words were of mercy towards her attacker: “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”
“She, of course, is the patroness of mercy,” explained Father Carlos Martins of the Companions of the Cross, who leads the tour. A biographer of St. Maria and director of Treasures of the Church, which evangelizes through the relics of saints, he has seen countless hearts moved and healings realized through her intercession.
“I see many miracles before my eyes. Limbs scheduled for amputation hours away are healed. Cancer is cured,” Father Martins said.
Why amputations? One of the two miracles that brought about Maria’s canonization was the healing of a man’s foot that was crushed and ready to be amputated.
Her help continues. “Every time I asked her to intervene in my ministry, she always has,” Father Martins noted.
Saved by Forgiveness
While St. Maria Goretti is known as the “Patroness of Purity” because she died fighting to keep her purity amid horrific attacks, her greatest virtue is considered her forgiveness of the man who did this violence, which eventually converted him.
St. Maria forgave, even after her assassin’s bullying and violence. When months spent trying to seduce her didn’t work, there were several rape attempts — the last resulting in death.
Father Martins stressed, “After all of that, Maria still forgave him.” Her genuine, deep forgiveness had an effect “that turned a very hardened man’s life around.”
Six years into serving his 30-year sentence, Serenelli had an apparition of Maria Goretti in his cell. That turned him from a violent, brutal and merciless bully into a renewed and gentle person, who concentrated on spreading devotion to God and his victim. To his dying days, he repeated: “Maria’s forgiveness saved me.”
“People don’t know how important forgiveness is,” Father Martins explained. “And all this is coming from an 11-year-old girl. That’s the disarming aspect.”
“She is so incredibly disarming for everyone,” he said. “She disarms men, disarms women and is irresistibly appealing to children. There is no segment of the population that is not attracted to her. Maria leaves nobody unaffected when they hear her story.”
Expected to draw huge crowds, every stop on the tour at the various churches, schools and prisons — including World Meeting of Families — includes presentations on Maria Goretti’s life and virtue, plus other prayer and veneration opportunities, including Mass. See links at MariaGoretti.com for the full schedule of stops.
The major relics are St. Maria’s remains inside a glass-sided casket. The wax statue of her in repose contains her skeletal remains, which are not visible. Her body is not incorrupt, but her skeleton is complete, except for some small amounts of bone that went into reliquaries that her mother, Assunta, donated to the Church of St. Nicholas, known as the Sanctuary of St. Maria Goretti, in her birth town of Corinaldo, Italy.
“Venerable Pope Pius XII beatified and canonized Maria. He loved her and had a heartfelt devotion to her,” said Father Martins.
Her canonization in 1950 was the first ever held outdoors. St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, was too small to contain the 500,000 people who came to attend from all over the world.
In the words of Pope Pius XII, “I have been forced by the piety of the whole world to leave the Basilica of St. Peter, which, for the first time in its glorious history, is hopelessly inadequate.”
Maria’s 82-year-old mother was present to hear Pius XII call her daughter a “powerful intercessor with the Lamb of God.”
Maria had two sisters and three brothers.
Eventually, Angelo, the oldest brother, immigrated to America. Within a year, brother Sandrino came. Unfortunately, he died in an accident less than a year later and is buried in Phillipsburg, N.J. Finally, Mariano came and settled in New Jersey. The two brothers married and started families. Today, there are Goretti descendants in the United States, including those who are excited to see their saint-relative visiting America.
“I figured I’d never get to Italy and see her — I’m beside myself and excited,” said Carol Giovanetti, the wife of Raymond Giovanetti, the nephew of St. Maria. His mother, Mary, was one of Angelo’s daughters. Their sons John and James are great-great-nephews of St. Maria.
“I’m very proud my sons and grandchildren are direct descendants,” Giovanetti said. She had not yet met her husband-to-be when she “remembers seeing the write-up about Maria in the 1960s in Look or Life magazine.”
She keeps in close contact with Raymond’s aunt Yolanda Goretti, who is Angelo’s daughter and the first niece of St. Maria. Yolanda is 93 years old and resides in a nursing home.
“Both of us have a devotion to St. Maria Goretti,” Carol said of herself and Yolanda.
“Aunt Yolanda prays to her all the time, and so do I.”
At the time of the canonization, the Goretti house in Nettuno had fallen into terrible disrepair. Enter the great American Churchman and archbishop of New York, Cardinal Francis Spellman, who had a great devotion to the saint.
“Spellman spearheaded the renovation of the house where she was martyred,” Father Martins said. The house was structurally preserved and renovation completed in 1953.
Father Martins added that one of the goals of the St. Maria tour is to once again renovate the house in Nettuno — which is now a chapel.
“But here again, America shines,” said Father Martins. Patrick Allen, president of a top-rated masonry company in New Jersey, accepted a role in the restoration work. Father Martins hopes to also tackle the repairs needed at the nearby Basilica of Our Lady of Grace and of St. Maria Goretti, where her relics are venerated.
Ultimately, spreading devotion to this young saint is the goal, according to Father Martins.
“Maria agreed to do what God wanted her to do — forgive a guy who did ugly things to her. That puts sainthood within the orbit” of the faithful.
“I think she is prepared to repay America for what it has done for her. I think you’re going to see miracles like you’ve never seen on a tour. This will be homecoming for a powerful saint who loves America. You’ll see.”
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.
Photo courtesy of Kenna Knight