"Maria Goretti" by Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini. Original source of this reproduction is unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Thousands visit human remains of youngest Catholic saint near Chicago

"Maria Goretti" by Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini. Original source of this reproduction is unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

"Maria Goretti" by Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini. Original source of this reproduction is unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

ORLAND PARK, Ill. (Reuters) Thousands gathered at a church in suburban Chicago on Wednesday to visit a display holding the remains of Maria Goretti, an 11-year-old Italian girl who became the Roman Catholic Church's youngest saint.

The skeleton of Goretti, who was stabbed to death during an attempted rape in 1902, was encased in a wax statue lying inside a clear glass coffin. Viewers waited for hours to approach the display, and many were moved to tears. Goretti is seen as a symbol of forgiveness and mercy in a violent world.

The display at the St. Francis of Assisi church in Orland Park, southwest of Chicago, is part of a first-ever visit to the United States, and will take in 16 states. The remains also drew huge crowds at a viewing in Chicago on Monday.

READ: Pope Francis asks forgiveness for scandals at the Vatican, Rome

Visitor Kathy McNolte, 43, said Goretti was an example of how violence could be met with mercy - a message she said was especially needed in Chicago, which saw 435 homicides in 2014, according to the Chicago Tribune.

"She showed mercy and we need to show that," said McNolte, who has three sons. "I'm here for my boys. They need someone to emulate. We need people who are kind and loving and forgiving to look up to."

Goretti was stabbed 14 times near Anzio, Italy, but asked forgiveness for her 20-year-old attacker before her death, according to the church.

"I forgive Alessandro Serenelli ... and I want him with me in heaven forever," she said in the hospital. After Serenelli's release from prison, he became a lay brother in a monastery.

The tour is a prelude to the "Year of Mercy," set to begin Dec. 8. It was declared by Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

READ: Chicago archbishop calls for tough gun control laws

The display arrived early on Wednesday in a motorcade escorted by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic lay group.

"Her presence here reaffirms the Christian faith in that there is forgiveness," said Patrick Allen, national coordinator for the tour. "She endured such agony and pain and yet had mercy."

Visitor Lorraine Kowalkowski said that while she was glad to see Goretti, violence in the city would not stop without parents teaching "care and respect" to their children.

Reporting by Nikitta Foston; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Peter Cooney


  1. Bones encased in wax statue? How about that!! Another money-making venture of the RCC. Right up there with bingo, festivals, saintly T-shirts, baseball hats, statues and blessed rosaries. Did I miss any?

  2. i find this to be very interesting. Probably a once in a lifetime venture for some.

  3. Tough crowd here. Once again, waxed bones? Sounds like something for the feast day of All Hallows aka Halloween.

  4. I can’t quite shake a slight feeling. Her statement of “I want to be with my attacker forever” feels a little too much like the common minimization of violence against women. Violence against women (especially rape) is too often portrayed as no big deal, and women are told that they might was well enjoy it. This saint comes a little too close to the barbaric biblical law that a woman must marry her rapist, and should be happy about it.

  5. The rabbis were consistent that while the rapist is obligated to marry the woman, she is under no such obligation.

  6. Is there a Torah verse that says she has a choice? Deuteronomy 22:29 is clear that a woman must marry her rapist – my Tanakh here says: If a man finds a virgin girl who was not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the girl’s father, and she shall become his wife, because he violated her. He shall not send her away all the days of his life. Nowhere do I find anything that says she has a choice in the matter – and yes I’ve read the whole thing. So, waiting for you to supply the verse from the Tanakh or one of the many Bibles (not the same, either will do), saying that she has a choice in the matter…….

  7. In today’s world, the action of St. Maria Gorretti to both safeguard her chastity and seek forgiveness for her attacker at the same time….as she is being slaughtered is misunderstood as stupidity rather than highly moral intelligence and love of God. A girl of only 12 has the compassion to act heroically in the face of evil. This is why she is revered as a Saint. May her earthly remains bring back a moral focus to those who seek her story out.

  8. Jon: I don’t claim to have lived in the time or understand the language Deuteronomy was written but my interpretation of that verse is quite different than yours. To me, the verse describes seduction, not rape. A completely different matter I’m sure you would agree.

  9. The relevant passage is Exodus 22:16: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.…” The choice in the matter lay with the female and her family.

    And yes, David O., neither of the pertinent words in these passages (“taphas” in Deutoronomy and “pathah” in Exodus) imply force in and of themselves.

  10. I didn’t say a Torah verse, I said the rabbis. Specifically tractate Ketubot of the Talmud.

  11. David, your two responses contradict each other. If you think the language (hebrew) is unknowable, then the entire Tanakh/Old Testament is gibberish, and reading it is pointless. Your second response shows that you indeed do interpret and claim it to mean something, even though you contradict the text itself, which clearly describes rape.

  12. That’s OK, but there are thousands of different Rabbis. Rabbis are people, and people have all kinds of different ideas. So you can take almost any idea, even if it contradicts scripture, and find some Rabbis who will support it. Thus, claiming that there are Rabbis who support X is relatively meaningless. There are Rabbis that support abortion, and those who support bans on abortion, Rabbis that support gay marriage, and Rabbis that support banning gay marriage, etc.

  13. No, we are talking about rape, not seduction, so the Ex. verse is not relevant – though even in that verse, the woman has no voice, since she is property. By putting the woman in there, you are making things up, since it says that the choice lies only with her owner – her father. Are you not familiar with Rev 22:18, for people like you who make stuff up and add it to their Bible?

    Secondly, your claim that the Deut passage is a mistranslation means that all the main Bibles used are mistranslations (because they all clearly show force there, such as “seize”, “Lay hold of”, etc), so no one can trust what their Bibles say. If this verse is mistranslated, how can anyone have any assurance than any other given verse isn’t mistranslated? You’ve just suggested that all Bibles are useless. So why do you follow something you yourself claim is uncertain?

  14. Jon, by “the rabbis” I was referring to Chazal, i.e. the rabbis of the Talmudic era. That’s why I cited the Talmud to begin with. While certainly rabbis disagreed in the past and disagree now about a great many subjects both ancient and modern, I fail to see any disagreement on the point I made. It is not meaningless to say what the halacha states. Simplified perhaps, but not meaningless.

  15. “By putting the woman in there, you are making things up, since it says that the choice lies only with her owner – her father.”

    Marriages were normally negotiated between FAMILIES, Jon, not individuals. For example, when Samson wished to marry a certain girl he did not go to her father but went to his own father and said “Get her for me.” Here the choice lies with the girl’s family. The attacker’s family is given no choice.

    “No, we are talking about rape, not seduction, so the Ex. verse is not relevant”

    Deutoronomy describes an event that may be consensual or not–it does not specify. “Taphas,” the operative word, does not connote force (as does “chazaq,” the word used in the Amnon-Tamar episode). It merely means to handle or put one’s hands on someone/something; the same word is used in other passages to describe handling a musical instrument or a sword. This is why the woman’s family is given choice.

    Someone is adding to scripture, but it isn’t me.

  16. Boy Bernardo, do we have an ax to grind or what? Personally, waxed entombed remains aren’t my thing. But anything that teaches mercy and forgiveness, well, I find it hard to argue with that. As for the plethora of money making schemes and products that you mention…thank our capitalistic system for that and get over it!

  17. Andrew,

    Might want to read Matthew 6:20-26 concerning Jesus and money/capitalism.

Leave a Comment