Mich. prison rejects display of Catholic saint relics
State of Michigan Corrections Department officials have denied a request by a Vatican-sponsored program to bring the relics of a Catholic virgin martyr saint, known for forgiving her killer, to the Macomb Correctional Facility
By Patricia Montemurri
Detroit Free Press
DETROIT, Mich. — State of Michigan Corrections Department officials have denied a request by a Vatican-sponsored program to bring the relics of a Catholic virgin martyr saint, known for forgiving her killer, to the Macomb Correctional Facility.
The remains of St. Maria Goretti, an 11-year-old Italian girl stabbed to death while resisting a sexual assault in 1902, were displayed before prisoners on Sept. 20 at the infamous Sing Sing prison outside New York City. But a Michigan corrections department spokesman cited security concerns in rejecting an appearance for the saint’s relics at the Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven on Friday, while the program visits three metro Detroit parishes during a multistate tour.
“We decided not to go forward. We had concerns about security in the facility, and concerns about bringing such a venerated item into our facility, and keep it protected and keep our facility protected,” said Chris Paulz, a state corrections department spokesman.
Paulz said Michigan officials did not consult with Sing Sing prison officials about how the program was received there.
The relics of St. Maria Goretti are embedded in a silver box inside a wax likeness of her and displayed in a glass casket. She is considered the church’s youngest saint and a model of mercy.
The Rev. Carlos Martins, who oversees the relics as part of the Vatican-sanctioned Pilgrimage of Mercy tour, said he was disappointed.
“I am officially disappointed that prison officials never contacted me directly so that we could discuss a way in which we could make this work that would satisfy all parties,” Martins wrote in an e-mail. The relics had been displayed in Philadelphia churches before Pope Francis’ visit last month and were on display at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City a week ago. Beginning Thursday, her remains will visit Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Sterling Heights, and St. Scholastica in Detroit.
“This is a Vatican-approved mission performing the work that is at the heart of Pope Francis' call to minister to those on the periphery,” said Martins. “St. Maria Goretti is the patroness of inmates and it saddens me that the inmates at Macomb will not get to receive her.”
The Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven houses about 1,400 prisoners. said Catholic Deacon John Wright, who has ministered to prisoners there for several years. Local officials at the Macomb facility initially were supportive of hosting the program, but it was denied by officials in Lansing.
“I just feel bad that we couldn’t have that opportunity for prisoners,” Wright said.
Her remains traveled to the U.S. from the basilica named for her in Nettuno, Italy, near Rome. St. Maria Goretti forgave her attacker, who spent about 30 years in prison, and repented for his crime after he said Maria came to him in a vision. He lived out his life in a monastery after release. She is sometimes known as the Patroness of Purity.
The Catholic Church’s sainthood process officially recognizes people whose lives were considered exceptional models of virtue. Catholics do not worship saints, but they may speak to saints in prayer and ask them to intercede on their behalf with God.
"Regardless of the outcome, it is admirable that those coordinating the Pilgrimage of Mercy attempted to extend this opportunity to members of the faithful who are incarcerated," said Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Joe Kohn.
After Michigan, St. Maria Goretti's remains and the Pilgrimage of Mercy tour will visit Chicago-area parishes, then travel through the Midwest, as well as Florida, Texas and Oklahoma through mid-November. For more information, visit www.mariagoretti.com.