From my bathroom window I can see the local Catholic church two hundred yards away. Yesterday, I noticed huge crowds in the parking lot, much bigger than I had ever seen, so as I was walking our dog Tig, I asked the gentlemen directing the vehicular chaos in the parking lot, “What’s going on?”
They said, “The relics of Saint Maria Goretti are on display.”
Now, the question you may be asking, is “Who is Saint Maria Goretti?” I was very familiar with the name, since this particular church that I pass by literally several every day is named after her.
But I didn’t know her story, so I quickly went to The Compendium of All Knowledge (i.e., Wikipedia) and discovered that Maria Goretti was the youngest Catholic saint. She was from eastern Italy, and at the age of twelve one of her neighbors, Alessandro Serenilli attempted to rape young Maria. When she resisted, he threatened her, but she still refused, so he stabbed her with a knife several times. Later, as she lay dying in the hospital she forgave her attempted rapist, reportedly saying that she hoped Alessandro would join her in heaven. He was eventually arrested, convicted, and jailed, but after he release he became a lay brother in a monastery. She became the patron saint of, among other things, teenage girls and rape victims. I now know why her relics are so popular. If I had known her story earlier, I would have included it in my chapter on rape in Prostitutes and Polygamists.
We may ask if the Pope’s Catholic (particular for Francis), but there’s no question about me. I’m not. But I thought, I’m an empty nester now, I might as well walk the two hundred yards over to the church and check out the relics. I stopped by at 8:30 last night, but the Mass had just finished and it was still packed, so I came back later about 10:30, which allowed most of the crowds to dwindle.
They had set up exhibits around the church, including one on “Relics.” Now, I’m a bit skeptical about the whole idea of venerating relics, but I appreciated the message of this particular exhibit which made several valid points.
1) Relics are not “magic.” Amen.
2) The relic doesn’t perform any miracles. That would be God. Great point.
3) But God does use objects in Scripture to heal people: Elijah’s bones (2 Kgs. 13:21), Jesus’ cloak (Mark 6:56), Paul’s apron (Acts 19:12-12). That’s true.
If you are interested, my “Zombie-interpretation” of the story of Elijah’s bones can be found here.
I probably won’t be spending my empty nest years chasing down relics, but I appreciated my short pilgrimage to Saint Maria Goretti Church, what I learned about her story, and how they support what they do with Scripture.
While I was at the church, Pope Francis stopped by to say hi, so I took a picture with him. I may not always agree with Francis, but he is clearly a man who loves God, God’s word, and God’s people. May God bless his visit to my city.