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Throngs see relics of ‘Patroness of Purity’

Kim Kozlowski and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dawn Downey and her husband packed up their four children and traveled three hours from their home in northern Michigan to Detroit so they could venerate the relics of the youngest saint ever canonized in the Catholic Church.

The family attended a special Mass at St. Scholastica Parish in Detroit and then saw the wax representation of St. Maria Goretti — an 11-year-old who died in 1902 after being stabbed 14 times during an attempted sexual assault but uttered words of forgiveness to her attacker just before she died. Her skeletal remains are inside the wax figure and encased in a reliquary.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a saint unless you want to leave the country,” said Downey, a resident of Fairview, as she stood outside St. Scholastic Parish on Sunday.

But they weren’t the only ones. Hundreds of pilgrims came from near and far to see “The Pilgrimage of Mercy: the Tour of the Major Relics of St. Maria Goretti,” on display until 10 p.m. Sunday before traveling to Chicago.

It is the final stop in Detroit for the biggest tour ever of a complete body of a saint in the U.S. Earlier last week, the relics were at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth and Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Sterling Heights.

The tour is associated with the Holy Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has declared would start Dec. 8.

“Mercy is the quintessential Christian virtue,” said Father Carlos Martins, a member of the Catholic order of brothers Companions of the Cross, and director of the pilgrimage.

“Mercy is a virtue we’ve forgotten today. We like to hold people accountable for their actions. There is nothing wrong with that. But at the same time we’ve become a society intent on revenge and blood. So we’ve forgotten one very important thing, that a human is more important that his behavior. Maria reminds us of that.”

Known as “the Patroness of Purity,” St. Maria Goretti is also considered the Patroness of Mercy and believed to have sparked miracles.

Jack Nelson brought his wife, Mary, to see the saint’s relics in hopes of a better life for Mary, who no longer speaks after suffering a heart attack and stroke a year and a half ago.

“We asked for healing,” said Jack Nelson, of Wyandotte. “She’s a miracle child; that’s why we’re here.”

St. Maria Goretti also remains a role model for many.

“There are a lot of our school kids and youth groups who are very inspired to learn her story,” said Joe Kohn, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“It’s just a good reminder of God’s love and mercy that we as a church understand St. Maria Goretti’s place in heaven and her ability to intercede for us.”

An estimated 6,500 people came to Our Lady of Good Counsel on Thursday, said Mary DelPup, director of evangelization and catechesis, who helped coordinate the visit. So many attended, she said, guests were bused in from a nearby hockey facility, some 350 volunteers were on hand and “at one point, we had 1,000 people waiting in line out to our soccer field.”

For some, it was an emotional experience, DelPup said.

“People just came away knowing that they are capable, in whatever situation there is in their own life, to give forgiveness and to extend mercy to those that have hurt them,” she said.

“I think it freed a number of people from that burden that they have been carrying of not forgiving people they need to forgive in their lives.

“So the tears that were shed as they prayed and honored her was because they found that they were being released of that resentment that they had been harboring toward someone else.

“People are finding healing in their hearts. That’s the purpose of this pilgrimage.”

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com