Matt C. Abbott
A parish reflects on Saint Maria Goretti
By Matt C. Abbott
October 26, 2015

On Oct. 12, I paid a visit to St. John Cantius Church here in Chicago to see the major relics of St. Maria Goretti. When I arrived at the church around 10 p.m., I expected there would be only a small number of people in attendance.

In fact, the line stretched almost halfway around the block! Needless to say, I never encountered that many people for a single church event in my years of attending the parish. I was floored but delighted at the same time.

The following is an edited version of a reflection that appeared in the parish bulletin; it was written by the pastor, Father C. Frank Phillips.

    At 6:45 a.m. the motorcade with the relics of St. Maria Goretti arrived at St. John's. The tower bells, the crowd of about 300 faithful, the emotion of that moment, the police escort, the quiet dignity of an SJC liturgical welcome to a saint's major relics, and the shared awe of those present in addition to other themes combined into an overwhelming moment.

    The confession lines: The SJC priests as well as volunteer priests remained in their confessionals for untold hours. The confession lines never ceased. In fact, they were jammed. Miracles abounded. The last confession was heard about 3 a.m.

    We saw the church in miniature. My house is a house for all peoples. The thousands upon thousands who appeared for the public veneration and the packed church for the Pontifical Mass ... included individuals with nothing, nothing, nothing but their poverty and, in not a few cases, their desperation.

    There were also the wealthy, who seemed to understand that there were no privileges here. They had to wait in line, sometimes for hours. The diversity included every skin tone, verbal accent, and language on the planet....

    The Pontifical Mass refused the slightest nod to time pressures. The Mass was offered with all the solemnity and reverence that is SJC's hallmark. Truly it was an occasion of 'restoring the sacred' before the eyes of so many Roman Catholics. Knights and Dames from various orders provided honor guards as well as many of our ushers and volunteers.

    Bishop Joseph Perry's homily on St. Maria Goretti was splendid. He did not recite the drama and courage of her short life and the drama and miracle of her murderer's conversion. That had been done already via a series of addresses by Father Martins, who manages the Treasures of the Church tours.

    Instead, he took Maria's story to another level, weaving it carefully and clearly into the fabric of modern life's violence, lack of charity, anger and emptiness. It was masterful from the viewpoint of homiletical fireworks. More important, a packed church listened with not a sound beyond a baby fussing here and there.

    Heroic volunteerism: We were told by the tour organizers that we would be overwhelmed. Even so, they advised, make every possible preparation in an attempt to maintain control of what would be 'organized chaos.' We recruited 125 volunteers from among our parishioners. There were elderly volunteers, mid-life volunteers, twenty-something volunteers, and teenage volunteers....

    Media management: The younger priests and brothers know every aspect of social media and used it to near perfection. We were literally 'all over' the media landscape. Every Chicago TV and news outlet was present for the arrival ... and kept representatives at SJC all day long. A news helicopter was in the air Monday morning along with media lighting towers.... The media's interviews with pilgrims were of course spontaneous. Pilgrims' responses were moving. It is no exaggeration to say that the media were amazed.

    The near-absence of squabbles and posturing: Clergy, volunteers, and pilgrims seemed to 'roll with the punches' of what could not be anticipated and with what could not be controlled precisely. People seemed to understand that the (1) sacredness of the event and (2) the pressure of thousands of pilgrims combined to enhance rather than challenge the event.

    Overall silence: In spite of the massive crowds and lines of people, the church remained relatively silent. Conversations were conducted only when necessary and the pilgrims respected the silence as providing the best possible prayer time with this saint of God.

    May St. Maria Goretti hear all your petitions and prayers.

Pertinent tract (primarily for non-Catholics):

"Praying to the Saints"

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 'Unsolved' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other media outlets. In 2005 and 2006, he was among the first writers to expose former cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuse of power with and sexual harassment of seminarians. He can be reached at

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