TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Thousands of East Texans journeyed to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler this week to venerate the youngest saint ever canonized. The major remains of Maria Goretti left Italy for a first-time tour of the United States. For the faithful, it was an opportunity to reflect on the life and sacrifice of the 'little Saint of great mercy.'
"She was an 11-year-old girl, who was killed in 1902 by a next-door neighbor in a botched rape attempt," said Father Carlos Martins, who helped organize the pilgrimage through the ministry, 'Treasures of the Church.' "What is significant in the way she died is that she spent her dying moments, her last strength, she spent uttering words of forgiveness to her murderer."
For the faithful who stood in line Monday at the cathedral, spending a few moments in prayer was a lesson in compassion. Many prayed alongside a glass-sided casket containing a wax statue which repose her skeletal remains.
In the weeks leading up to Saint Maria's arrival in Tyler, Father Morgan White, a priest of the Diocese of Tyler, was featured in a series of YouTube videos telling the story of her life and death.
For the faithful who stood in line Monday at the cathedral, spending a few moments in prayer was a lesson in compassion, Fr. White said. "After Alessandro (Serenelli) comes from prison, he comes to visit (Maria's) mother and says to her, 'Can you forgive me?' and she says, 'If Maria can forgive you, I can forgive you.'" This act of mercy was through the divine grace of God, Fr. White said."Where did Maria get the grace to forgive? Where did her mother get the grace to forgive? And not only to forgive but to embrace and give friendship and love to the one who had so sinned against their family and destroyed so much of their family life."
Saint Maria's killer experienced a transformation of the heart, Fr. Martins said. After serving a 30-year prison sentence, Serenelli received forgiveness from the Goretti family and converted to a life of holiness. "To his dying days he kept saying over and over again, 'The forgiveness of Maria saved me.'"
Decades later, that profound story of virtue and suffering is inspiring the lives of East Texans.
"(It is) a reminder of the message of mercy of Jesus Christ that an individual, that a person is more important than his behavior," said Fr. Martins. "No matter what actions an individual has done, the person is loved by God, was created by God, and the blood of Christ was shed for that person, they are worth saving."
This an uncommon opportunity for veneration, with Maria's story of her love for Jesus no longer so distant.
"The Holy Spirit raises up in every generation as examples of holiness of examples of what it really is to follow Jesus so that we may have courage to keep on fighting the good fight and keep on moving forward," Fr. Morgan said.
The life and death of a Christian martyr can bring context in the 21st century. For many, this can be an experience of healing, according to Fr. Martins. "Somebody can go to heaven with cancer in their leg. Somebody can go to heaven with heart disease or deafness, but they can't go to heaven with bitterness in their heart. They can't go to heaven with a heart that is unconverted."
The relics are touring the country ahead of the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, announced by Pope Francis, which begins on December 8.
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