Just before daylight on Oct. 19 the relic of St. Maria Goretti was escorted into St. Peter Cathedral in Belleville where she would remain until 11 p.m. that night.
St. Maria is on a Pilgrimage of Mercy in the United States to churches in dioceses and archdioceses primarily on the East Coast with the Diocese of Belleville one of those stops.
Father Carlos Martins, CC director of the pilgrimage said the relic will begin traveling back east after the visit here.
This is only the second time the relic has left Italy and the first time it has traveled to the United States.
People visited the cathedral in Belleville all day to venerate the relic. At midday the line stretched all the way to the end of the block.
Jomary Chenet of St. Clare in O’Fallon brought three of her children to the cathedral.
“I have been hearing about her since I was a little girl,” Chenet said. “It is definitely overwhelming; I’m just amazed,” she said.
School students from diocesan schools from the Belleville area, from St. Bruno in Pinckneyville, St. John the Baptist in Smithton and West Frankfort, St. Joseph in Freeburg and the Newman Center at Carbondale were among those who went to the cathedral.
Many people from the St. Louis area, from Memphis, Tenn., from Omaha, Neb., from places near and far came to the diocese to venerate the relic. Often, they said they had a special devotion to the saint.
Over 1,200 attended a 7 p.m. liturgy that evening before veneration of the relic continued, and the line resumed.
The saint’s relic includes bones of the skeleton of St. Maria, held in a silver box inside a wax figure, Father Martins said. The figure is dressed in white to denote purity with blue ribbons crisscrossing the chest because she had “a profound devotion to Our Lady,” he said.
Two ornaments rest on the ribbons, one of lillies and one a palm branch, Father Martins said.
The lilies signify purity and the palm branch martyrdom.
When St. Maria was canonized in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, it was the “largest event in Catholic history to that time,” Father Martins said. More than half a million people attended the event, including her mother.
St. Maria died while defending herself from a neighbor, Alessandro Serenelli, who attempted to rape her. Although she was able to fend off his attack, he stabbed her 14 times, and she died from peritonitis.
Before her death, St. Maria forgave her attacker, and after serving 27 years of a 30-year sentence for his crime, he joined the Capuchin Franciscans.
“Maria was not a victim,” Father Martins said. “She overpowered her attacker with love and an imitation of Christ.”
By the end of the evening, Msgr. John Myler, Cathedral rector, said more than 7,500 people had visited.
For more information about the saint, the pilgrimage and more, please go to mariagoretti.com