By Friday afternoon, the streets of Philadelphia's Center
City were thick with the faithful. The World Meeting of
Families had wrapped up at the Pennsylvania Convention
Center, leaving the 15,000 Catholics brought into town from
around the globe for the congress to their own devices before
Pope Francis arrived Saturday.
That is not to mention the many other curious pilgrims, from
Philly and beyond, who, despite security checkpoints manned
by the U.S. Secret Service, wanted a peek of the pre-papal
But at 4 p.m., one spot seemed particularly bustling in the
already bustling downtown: St. John the Evangelist Church.
Yes, there were back-to-back Masses, including one honoring
military families, but an even bigger draw was the Pilgrimage
of Mercy, a tour of the major relics of St. Maria Goretti,
including her skeletal remains contained in a wax likeness.
Dead by age 11 in 1902, St. Maria Goretti is the youngest
Catholic saint. As a nine-year-old living in Italy, Maria
lost her father and was forced to raise her five brothers and
sisters while her mother toiled in the fields.
Maria also cooked for her neighbor in exchange for favors
rendered to her family. The neighbor's 20-year-old son,
Alessandro, started making sexual advances toward Maria,
which she fought for months until, one day, he attempted to
rape her. During the assault, he stabbed her over and over
again. Despite the attack, Maria kept her purity in tact. She
died from an infection the next day.
Yet on her deathbed, she forgave Alessandro, reportedly
saying, "I want him with me in heaven forever." While
Alessandro served time in prison for his crime, Maria
appeared to him, and he was so touched that he eventually
became a Franciscan lay brother.
The Pilgrimage of Mercy tour stopped at St. John the
Evangelist Church Sept. 24-25, with a public veneration of
St. Maria and Solemn Mass both days. It goes to New York City
Find out more
To read the full tour schedule, go to mariagoretti.com.