This is the second part of the narrative of my pilgrimage to the relics of St. Maria Goretti, and it looks like it will be the penultimate rather than the ultimate post. I know that many of my dear reader are more interested in anime than my religious opinions and experiences, of which the beginning of this month has been replete. So, I promise to double post tomorrow: the last of this series and then a post on Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation, Utawarerumono (the original series), or Heavy Object.
No other incidents worthy of note took place until I reached St. Monica’s Church in Duluth. The complaints of my belly had made me half an hour late to the Mass, but not late enough to miss the homily. That the Church parking lot was full and that I needed to park in some overflow parking pleased me, as I was wondering how many American Catholics would be interested in venerating a saint’s relics–a practice which probably strikes many as medieval. Since the main part of the Church was packed, I was ushered into a conference room, in which the mass was broadcast on a large TV screen. (This stands as the one way watching Mass on TV counts as participation in it.) To my surprise, many of the Catholics attending were Asians, Africans, and Hispanics, making me a minority–something I had not expected.
After my brief reflection on the diversity of the body of Christ, I turned my attention to the missionary priest offering the homily. Several facts about St. Maria Goretti which the priest unveiled surprised me. For example, America’s people had been greatly involved with the saint and her hometown: three of her siblings came to live in America, her prayers were asked in interceding for the Americans to break out of the Anzio Death Trap during WWII (which area contains the second largest cemetery of American soldiers in Europe), the American soldiers taught the residents of her town baseball which they love more than soccer now, and the American Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Francis Spellman, led the campaign to have St. Maria Goretti’s residence in Nettuno renovated in 1953. And so, the padre referred to the saint as a very American saint. Sort of how one may view St. Padre Pio as a very American saint in his solicitude for American soldiers during WWII and even the Americans who visited his monastery afterwards. But, Italy has so many saints that they can spare some for other countries.
How did St. Maria Goretti, a poor, eleven year old girl, become a canonized saint? That is, a Christian who lived her vocation to holiness with heroic virtue? All the people who knew her in Nettuno recognized her quiet and dutiful nature; but, she wears the double crown of virginity and martyrdom for what happened to her in her last days. A worker at their family’s farm, Alessandro Serenelli, attempted to rape her. When she refused to cooperate, saying that it was a sin, and fought back against her attacker, he stabbed her fourteen times and left her for dead. On her deathbed, as she died of blood poisoning, she forgave Serenelli, saying: “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.” After this heroic and complete act of forgiveness, she passed on into glory.
Her story did not end there. Her murderer was eventually captured by the police. Utterly impenitent, he denied that he had killed her until incontrovertible evidence was brought against him at the trial. He would stay the next eight years in prison, pretending to be cheerful at his lot for much of that time. His hardness of heart was at last broken by a priest who visited him, saying that he must repent of St. Maria’s murder and confess to it. He flew so violently at the priest that he needed to be restrained and his agitation lasted through the middle of the night. That same night, St. Maria Goretti appeared to him in a vision bringing roses to show her forgiveness. Immediately after, he banged on his cell door and demanded a priest, declaring that he had slain an innocent girl and wished for the Sacrament of Confession.
After his release, he visited Nettuno and begged the forgiveness of Goretti’s mother, which she gave him because of her daughter’s forgiveness. The next Sunday, he went to Mass with her and declared his guilt before the entire congregation. His confession of his crime and confirming Maria’s account of what happened on the day of her murder allowed the saint’s process of canonization, which the devil’s advocate had managed to bring to a standstill, to continue, which led to her canonization in 1950. From that time of his conversion, Alessandro Serenelli, became a tertiary of the Capuchin order and so changed from his wild and unscrupulous ways that the children at the school where he worked called him “Uncle Alessandro” for his gentleness. The missionary priest was convinced that Alessandro would be canonized one day as a sign that even the greatest sinner need not despair of becoming a saint!
After Mass, I joined the long line to the glass coffin containing the relics of St. Maria. Inside the glass coffin lay a wax statue of our saint which contained a metal box holding her relics. I had the impression that we should have some time to pray before the relics, but American efficiency dictated that each person should be allowed fifteen seconds by her side before moving on. However, long before I had reached her, it was decided that a few seconds were more efficient than fifteen. The priests and ushers told us to say our prayers on line and to be sure to touch the relics, because doing so always gave healing to the soul.
During my approach to her relics, I learned the reason why people were willing to cross hundreds or thousands of miles to venerate the body of a saint….