Thousands lined up Saturday and Sunday at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church to see the small glass case holding the remains of Saint Maria Goretti.
The case arrived Saturday carrying the relics of the Goretti, the youngest of all canonized Catholic saints.
More than 1,000 wide-eyed onlookers packed the church as it welcomed the 11-year-old, canonized saint into its sanctuary Saturday afternoon as part of the Pilgrimage of Mercy. Coincidentally, it was also a timely celebration of All Saints’ Day.
Recently ordained the Rev. Brad Doyle, of St. George Catholic Church, heard Goretti would be passing through on her way from Orlando, Florida, to Tyler, Texas, and asked the tour to make an extra stop in Louisiana’s capital city.
Goretti, a modern saint of forgiveness and purity, was stabbed 14 times in Italy after she refused the advances of a next-door neighbor. She died on July 6, 1902, shortly after the attack but, before her last breath, forgave her attacker and said she hoped he would join her in heaven. The man who killed her would later convert to Catholicism and die a saintly man.
Goretti, who was canonized in 1950, began the Pilgrimage of Mercy in the United States in September and will continue through November, in preparation for what Pope Francis proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy. It will run from Dec. 8 to Nov. 20, 2016.
Visitors from all over Louisiana traveled to visit Goretti on Saturday and Sunday.
Devout Catholics of all ages took turns pressing their fingertips against the glass. A wax statue over the skeleton of Goretti, dressed in white and blue clothing, rested on her back as people flowed past, stopping to ask the saint to intercede with God on their behalf. The ornately framed casket, resting on claw feet, was lined with a red pallet for Goretti’s relics.
“I was brought to tears,” Doyle said of Goretti’s visit.
Doyle, who set out to bring Goretti to Baton Rouge, said he devoted himself to Goretti as a high school student. He said when he was going through seminary, he was gifted a relic of Goretti’s, a piece of bone from her arm. He lost it and spent two years searching for it, he said, only for it to mysteriously appear two weeks before he was ordained a priest in May. He knew he would have to see her when he heard she was coming to the United States.
“You think of saints as old people with beards that lived a really long time ago, and Maria was a young person who lived relatively recently. She was a little girl. She loved Jesus Christ, and she loved her faith. She protected her purity. She was 11. Her youth is very powerful in this story,” Doyle said. “She’s a saint for this time.”
The case carrying the relics left the church at 5 p.m. Sunday, headed to the next stop on the pilgrimage in Tyler, Texas.
Follow Danielle Maddox Kinchen on Twitter, @Dani_Maddox4.