A student from St. Maria Goretti Catholic School takes her turn to say a prayer to the wax-encased relic of her school’s patron saint. Photo courtesy of Pina Povolo

Thousands drawn to St. Maria Goretti relic

By 
  • June 6, 2012

TORONTO - Heavy rain that wreaked havoc on Toronto May 31 wasn’t enough to deter thousands from lining up outside St. Maria Goretti Church for a chance to spend 30 seconds with a relic of the parish’s patron saint.

“The church was jammed from the beginning to the end,” said pastor Fr. Edwin Galea. “We expected a good level of interest but we were fairly overwhelmed by the extent of interest. It was far beyond our imagination.”

Galea said at the lowest ebb of interest in the relic, the church was packed with about 1,000 people, some 2,000 were on church property, while another thousand or so lined the street outside the church.

The relic — the saint’s exhumed body sculpted into the likeness of a petite girl and encased in wax — spent 40 hours during a May 31-June 1 vigil at the parish near Kennedy Road and Eglinton Avenue in Toronto’s east end.

Cardinal Thomas Collins officiated at a Mass to mark the relic’s visit.

“The visit of St. Maria Goretti allows Catholics to reflect on the heroic virtues of this young saint,” said the cardinal. “Her compelling story of sacrifice and forgiveness should inspire us in our own faith journey.”

Born on Oct. 16, 1890, Goretti spent the first half of her impoverished young life in Corinaldo, Italy, where her father struggled to support a growing family on a farmworker’s wage. Things soon got worse as young Maria’s father died when she was only 10. She took on the role of a mature woman by cooking, cleaning and caring for her six siblings.

Despite these hardships Goretti’s devotion to her faith only strengthened.

It was a tragic death for Maria. She refused the sexual advances of a housemate and was stabbed to death in 1902, at the age of 12. But before she died, she forgave her attacker.

“I want him to be with me in paradise,” she said before passing away.

Forty-eight years after her death Pope Pius XII canonized Goretti, the youngest officially recognized Roman Catholic saint, and the first to have a mother witness her child’s canonization ceremony. Goretti’s murderer also attended the service.

Before arriving at St. Maria Goretti Church, the relic, accompanied by 12 representatives from the Italian shrine where the relic is housed, enlightened the students at St. Maria Goretti School.

“The feedback that the teachers received, and I received, from the students was that it truly was a spiritually significant event,” said Paul Sullivan, the school’s principal. “The positive feedback that I was receiving from the Italian delegates, from parents who were at the school, from staff afterwards, really gave me a clear indicator that this was a significant event in the faith life of our children.”

After spending an hour at the school, the majority of the more than 1,000 students took part in a procession with the relic to the nearby parish.

“This has deepened their faith and opened their eyes,” said Sullivan. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This will not come our way again.”

It was the relic’s first trip to Canada from its normal resting place at the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie e Santa Maria Goretti, the shrine named after the saint in Nettuno, Italy.

The tour began in Montreal May 22 and wound its way through that archdiocese, to Ottawa, Toronto and Midland, Ont., before making its way back to Montreal.

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