From mid-morning to late night, the thousands of faithful came to venerate this Patroness of Purity.
The remains of Saint Maria Goretti, encased in a wax likeness of her that was placed in a glass casket, visited Saint Peter Church in Merchantville on Oct. 7.
Starting at 10 a.m., crowds formed to pray before the saint. Until a 7 p.m. Mass, and after Mass until after 10 p.m., the lines stretched down the center aisle, out the church doors, and down the block, filled with individuals of all ages come to worship this saint of purity, mercy and forgiveness.
Her visit to Saint Peter’s came amidst an inaugural tour of her body in the United States. When her relics go back to Italy, she will have been venerated in almost 20 states. The only other location she has been in New Jersey was at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.
Father Carlos Martins, who has been leading the U.S. pilgrimage, provided a background of the saint in his homily during the packed 7 p.m. liturgy. He emphasized the appropriateness of the timing of Saint Maria’s visit, just before the Year of Mercy begins.
In 1902, at the age of 11, Maria Goretti was stabbed to death by 20-year-old Allesandro Serenelli, after rejecting his advances and defending her virginity. On her deathbed the next day, Maria expressed forgiveness for her attacker, saying that she wanted to “see him in heaven forever.”
Serving 27 years in prison, Serenelli was unrepentant until the saint appeared to him in a vision. She had 14 white roses, representing forgiveness for each stab wound. Upon his release from prison, he converted to the Catholic faith, entered a monastery, and was present when Pope Pius XII canonized Saint Maria Goretti in 1950.
Gina Haring came from Magnolia with her mother, Karen; 11-month old son Antonio; and friend Antoinette, to venerate the young saint.
“As my full name is Gina Marie, she is my patron saint, and I’m very devout to her,” she said.
Andy Sangataldo, with his wife, Gina; mother-in law, Dee; daughter Maria Teresa; sons Nicholas and Vinnie; niece Victoria; nephew Christopher; and sister-in-law, Andrea, traveled from Burlington and Medford.
Seeing Saint Maria was special for the entire family, he said, but most especially for his 15-year-old daughter, who carries the saint’s namesake and has cerebral palsy.
“We had to come here to venerate her, and ask for her intercession for (our daughter), and for the rest of us. God’s watched out for her, and now Saint Maria is, as well,” he said.
Waiting in the long line, Bill Murphy and his wife, Peggy, from Little Egg Harbor, passed the time praying the rosary. “It’s a good feeling (to see Saint Maria Goretti),” he said. “I’ve never been up close to a saint before.”
Father Anthony Manuppella, pastor of Saint Peter, said that almost 6,000 people prayed in front of Saint Maria Goretti on Wednesday.
The day was “very moving” for people, he said, especially for the many who returned to the church after being away, drawn by the young saint’s story of mercy. “They were moved by her forgiveness,” Father Manuppella said.