Metro-East News

Relic of martyred saint coming to Belleville

Relic of St. Maria Goretti in Belleville Oct. 19

Monsignor John T. Myler talks about the relic of St. Maria Goretti, the pilgrimage to the United States, and the stop in Belleville at the Cathedral of St. Peter on Oct. 19. The public veneration of St. Maria begins at 7 a.m. on Oct. 19 with a so
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Monsignor John T. Myler talks about the relic of St. Maria Goretti, the pilgrimage to the United States, and the stop in Belleville at the Cathedral of St. Peter on Oct. 19. The public veneration of St. Maria begins at 7 a.m. on Oct. 19 with a so

Thousands are expected to come to downtown Belleville Monday to the view the body of martyr Maria Goretti, the youngest saint ever canonized by the Catholic Church.

The relic will be on display from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday at the Cathedral, and all are welcome to pray at St. Maria’s remains, which are inside a glass-sided Crystal casket.

“This is unique, because it is the entire body of Maria Goretti,” said Monsignor John Myler with the Diocese of Belleville. “It’s her skeletal remains covered in wax and clothed. It is made presentable looking.”

In many churches in Europe, the body of the patron saint of that church may be on display, according to Myler. “We don’t normally do that in the United States, so this is an opportunity for people who have never experienced this to make a pilgrimage without going to Rome, without going to Paris. ...,” he said. “In a sense, the sacred image comes here so people can make a pilgrimage here.”

He described the relic as part of the Catholic Church family. “In the family of faith, in the family of the church, the treasures are those who have gone before us,” Myler said, “and a relic is something that belonged to or is part of that saint, and the church treasures that.”

He emphasized that relics have “no power” themselves. “Any good that comes from a relic comes from God, of course,” Myler said. “They are not magical, and they are not superstition. It’s because this person has been a temple of the Holy Spirit that their bodies are sacred to Christians.”

More than 5,000 people are expected to visit the Cathedral as part of the “Pilgrimage of Mercy: the Tour of the Major Relics of St. Maria Goretti.”

In the family of faith, in the family of the church, the treasures are those who have gone before us, and a relic is something that belonged to or is part of that saint and the church treasures that.

Monsignor John Myler with the Diocese of Belleville

Pope Francis personally requested the body of St. Maria visit cathedrals and basilicas in the United States. “She is a great example of mercy,” Myler said. “Mercy is a great theme of his pontificate.”

St. Maria is known as “the little saint of great mercy,” Myler said, because after the 11-year-old Italian girl was stabbed by a neighbor she forgave him before she died the next day — July 6, 1902.

Her last words on her deathbed were of mercy toward her 20-year-old attacker: “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”

Maria was declared a saint by Pope Pius XII on June 24, 1950.

Pope Francis has called for a “Year of Mercy” worldwide, beginning Dec. 8 and running through Nov. 20, 2016.

“This is in preparation for the Year of Mercy,” Myler said.

This is the first time St. Maria’s body has traveled to the United States and only the second time she has left Italy.

St. Peter Cathedral was selected to be part of the tour by the Offices of the Vatican, Myler said. “We were very happy to cooperate and then be chosen,” he said.

This marks the first time a relic has come to the Diocese of Belleville, and it’s the first time St. Maria’s body has traveled to the United States and only the second time she left Italy.

The relic tour includes stops at 25 Catholic dioceses spanning 16 states, including the Archdioceses of New York, Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Oklahoma City. More information can be found online at www.MariaGoretti.com.

The thousands making the pilgrimage Monday to see the body of St. Maria will include schoolchildren. Several local schools are busing students in to take part in the historic event including Blessed Sacrament School and Notre Dame Academy, both in Belleville.

“These saints are the heroes of God, the heroes of faith,” Myler said. “This is one way to train those heroes of tomorrow.”

In the South Nave of the Cathedral, visitors can learn more about St. Maria and see photographs and artifacts and watch a video about her. The relic will be displayed in the North Nave of the Cathedral.

“The general public is certainly invited to give thanks to God for this young girl who is even now a hundred years later a great example of purity and of mercy,” Myler said.

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Want to visit St. Maria Goretti?

  • When: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday
  • Where: The Cathedral, 200 W Harrison St. in Belleville
  • Mass: Bishop Edward Braxton will celebrate a Mass at 7 p.m.
  • Parking: Nine lots will be available surrounding the Cathedral. “We anticipate a great crowd, but not great congestion,” Monsignor John Myler said.
  • Details: www.MariaGoretti.com
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