So I’m sitting in my train, waiting to start the journey back to New York. Two hours earlier I was in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston visiting the saint. It has been a day, though the day is not yet even half way done, of intense introspection. It’s good to have days like that sometimes. This trip was certainly a marvel for me, all in deeply internal ways that I could never begin to explain well to someone else.
I was lucky this morning. I was one of the first ones to the Cathedral. I came in through a side entrance so I didn’t see the large banners posted at the main until I left, but on both sides of the main aisle, whereby one might approach the saint, there were two banners, each indicating clearly how to venerate, what was permitted (15 seconds per person to keep lines moving) and what wasn’t (photos). They did a really good job of presentation. There were larger banners ringing the sides of the church explaining who Maria was, what this tour was all about, etc. as well.
I was one of the first ones there so I actually got to go up to her twice and I probably spent longer than fifteen seconds before the reliquary too. She had an honor guard—which makes sense for protection of her relic. Four of them were lined in pairs right as you approached and they handed out prayer cards of her and two were stationed on either side of the glass reliquary case.
She’s so SMALL!! I knew that she was just under twelve when she died, but somehow I didn’t picture her to be so small– barely four feet– and delicate. I’m still wrapping my mind around someone trying to rape and then when they couldn’t, when she fought her attacker off, kill this child. It makes her story all the more powerful for me.
I was able to sit for quite some time in the first few rows of the church almost right in front of her. I prayed and sat in silence for a long time. I tucked the third class relics (when you touch an item to the body or reliquary of a saint in Catholic theology, it becomes a relic itself, third class.* All the prayer cards we were given had been touched to her reliquary) safely away and stayed as long as I could. I had actually intended to stay longer, but after about forty minutes, every Catholic school in the city suddenly arrived (LOL), so I thought it best to leave. They were respectful, but with that many people suddenly filling the church the opportunity for silence and solitude was gone. I headed back to the hotel and caught an early train home.
I did find out that amongst other things, Maria Goretti is the patron saint of those who lost their parents too early.
Now I know why I had to come.
(This is the image on the prayer cards we were given. Maria’s mother, who was alive at the time of her canonization, said of all the paintings she’s seen of her daughter, this one looks the most like Maria. Sadly, no actual photographs of the girl ever existed.
*First class relics are the actual remains of the saint him or herself. In this case, the reliquary itself that contains such remains is considered likewise a first class relic. Second class relics are comprised of anything the saint wore or handled. Third class relics are items touched to a first class relic.