By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
When Jenna Moreno’s older sister Ellise got to see the relics of St. Maria Goretti with her classmates, Jenna had one response.
“I actually begged my mom to take us to come see her,” said Jenna, a fifth-grader at St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Arlington.
The Moreno family was one of more than 13,500 people who flocked from all over Texas to St. Monica Catholic Church in Dallas on Nov. 3 to get a glimpse of the relics of St. Maria Goretti, which were available for veneration for one day only as part of a nationwide 54-stop tour.
It marked the first time St. Maria Goretti’s relics have visited the United States. The tour was organized by Treasures of the Church, an evangelization ministry run by Father Carlos Martins.
St. Maria Goretti, a native of Nettuno, Italy, was only 11-years old when she was brutally stabbed to death by then 18-year-old Alessandro Serenilli in 1902 after he attempted to rape her.
Six years into a 30-year prison sentence, Serenilli reported that Goretti had appeared to him in a vision and given him 14 lilies, signifying her forgiveness for him having stabbed her 14 times. Serenilli, who later joined the Capuchin Order as a lay member, credited St. Maria Goretti with his conversion and eventually received forgiveness from her mother, Assunta.
St. Maria Goretti became the youngest saint in the Catholic Church when she was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950. It was the first time in church history that a mother was present for the canonization of her daughter.
Sylvester Galvan initially drove from Odessa only for an appointment at Cook Children’s Medical Center for his 16-month-old son Ignacio, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as Tetrasomy 18p, which affects development of motor skills, muscle tones, and intellectual ability. The two stayed an extra day to visit the relics and were first in line, waiting with Galvan’s mother-in-law, Sue Watson.
Galvan said St. Maria Goretti’s reputation for healing and devotion to God drew him to her.
“Just being able to know the life of the saint and know what she was willing to die for and realizing her love for God helps me to want my love for God to grow that much, as well,” Galvan said.
Father Stephen Bierschenk, pastor of St. Monica, said the thousands standing in line to get a glimpse of Goretti have been a blessing to his parish. He said the presence of her relics and her story serve as a witness for the church, which enters the Year of Mercy on Dec. 8.
“Her example of heroic forgiveness and praying for mercy for her attacker and her intercession is a powerful message for each one of us,” Father Bierschenk said. “When we’re offended with big or little things, we need to draw on the power that Christ gives us to forget ourselves and forgive those who have offended us.”
Austin resident Kathryn Whitaker and her husband Scott traveled to Dallas with their children so they could see the relics Kathryn and Scott had seen in 2002.
“Our children are in Catholic school, so they hear about saints all the time, but it’s not often that you get to take your children to see a saint,” she said. “We live in a world that sees things with a vindictive nature and not a lot of mercy and love. That was her whole life. For us to bring them to see that in person I think drives home the message. Mercy is something we could all use more of.”