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Pilgrimage of Mercy features the relics of St. Maria Goretti

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 visit preparations.

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 next.

Find out more

To read the full tour schedule, go to mariagoretti.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015