By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 2, 2015
On a chilly and rainy Monday morning, the young and old came in steady numbers to venerate the major relics of St. Maria Goretti at Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta.
Students from Holy Spirit Preparatory School, a crossing guard dressed in bright yellow, men and women on their way to work, the elderly, and parents with youngsters in tow all paused for quiet moments before The Little Saint of Great Mercy on Oct. 26.
Some solemnly touched holy cards and rosaries to St. Maria Goretti’s Baroque-style reliquary adorned with cherubs, while others knelt in prayer for her intercession.
Maria Goretti, born in eastern Italy in 1890, was brutally murdered before her twelfth birthday by a neighbor who had made advances toward her several times.
Maria died the day after the stabbing from her wounds and infection. As she suffered on her deathbed Maria spoke these words about her attacker, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”
During his prison sentence, Serenelli reported that Maria appeared to him and forgave him. That act of mercy, forgiveness and love filled the prisoner with contrition. It was a turning point for him. From that day forward, Serenelli lived a life of holiness, eventually becoming a Franciscan lay brother.
Maria Goretti is the youngest saint to be canonized by the church. Her mother also forgave the murderer.
In March, Pope Francis announced an Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy to begin Dec. 8. This first visit of the major relics of St. Maria Goretti outside of Italy is a joint effort of the Holy See and Treasures of the Church to prepare the United States for the Year of Mercy.
Father Carlos Martins, director of Treasures of the Church, said the Pilgrimage of Mercy will have visited 54 cities in 55 days by its conclusion in mid-November. St. Monica Church in Duluth hosted the relics the day after Holy Spirit Church.
The priest is never far from the saint’s relics, and has been her constant companion on the motor coach journey that began in September.
The reliquary contains a wax statue in the likeness of Maria. A silver box within the statue holds her skeletal remains. A woman healed by Maria’s intercession donated her own hair for the statue.
“There have been many healings,” said Father Martins.
A physical healing is “wonderful,” said the priest, yet following the example of St. Maria Goretti can lead to a more important healing.
“You can’t go to heaven with unforgiveness in your heart,” he said.
Read more about the Pilgrimage of Mercy visits to Holy Spirit Church and St. Monica Church in the Nov. 12 issue of The Georgia Bulletin.