With great awe, the Catholic faithful and others came to gaze upon and pray before the wax statue containing the relics of St. Maria Goretti, the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church.

The relics were brought to Tyler as part of a 40-city tour around the U.S. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler was one of three stops in Texas, the other two being in Dallas and Houston.

The tour is a part of an effort to promote the Holy Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis declared for Dec. 8, 2015 through Nov. 20, 2016.

Universally known as the Patroness of Purity, St. Maria, who was killed when she was 11, is also known as the Patroness of Mercy and the Little Saint of Great Mercy.

Her last words were of forgiveness toward her killer. She also reportedly appeared to him during his prison sentence and forgave him.

For this reason, the Church selected her remains for the tour to promote the Holy Year of Mercy.

"I knew it'd be a holy experience, but it was more than I expected," 16-year-old Payton Fanning, a Bishop T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School senior, said.

Fanning and his friend Maddy Chavez, 17, a Chapel Hill High School senior, came together to pray and sit before the relics.

Fanning said he and his classmates have been studying St. Maria in school and he wanted to come.

He said he prayed for guidance and wisdom and to avoid lustful desires. He also asked for forgiveness from God and to have forgiveness in his heart for others.

Max and Megan Crim, of Tyler, came to pray as well.

"I really truly believe in the concept of the communion of the saints," said Crim, 45, who works as an independent investor.

He said people have something to learn from the departed. In addition, he said given that the Pope has declared this upcoming year, the Holy Year of Mercy, it is meaningful to have St. Maria, the Patroness of Mercy, here.

"Mercy is very much a keystone to the Christian faith," he said. "Being merciful is very difficult."

Mrs. Crim said she thanked St. Maria for her heart of mercy and the great example she is of forgiveness.

"I just asked that she would just pray for us as we come into this year of mercy, this year of blessing," she said.

In the Cathedral's foyer, items such as a book about St. Maria and photographs related to her and her family were on sale. Proceeds went toward preserving the relics and the glass-sided casket in which they are placed.

Whitehouse resident LoriAnne Tallant and her daughter, Addie-Jean, 10, a fourth-grader, volunteered to work the sales table.

Ms. Tallant, who converted to Catholicism as an adult, said it was difficult to put the experience into words. As a mother she saw the tragedy that befell St. Maria from a mother's perspective, which made her a bit emotional.

"For Maria and her mother both to be able to forgive (the perpetrator), I'm not sure I would be able to have that in me," she said.

As a Catholic, she appreciated the opportunity to see the relics of a saint, an experience she called "once in a lifetime."

Her daughter also valued the experience.

"When we were kneeling where she was I was in awe because it was my first time seeing the saint and I thought it was a blessing to be able to see that," Addie-Jean said.

Alicia Walton, 35, of Nacogdoches, drove to Tyler with her two daughters, who are 4 and 5, to take advantage of the rare occasion.

"You get so many graces making pilgrimages like this," the lifelong Catholic said.

She said she prayed for her children's purity and that of her nieces and nephews. Although she hesitated to come, she had told her two daughters about it and they wanted to go.

"I think whenever you just go out of your way of your normal life and do something to bring you closer to God, I think God will look kindly on you, get close to you because of (this)," she said.

The Rev. Hank Lanik, rector of the Cathedral, said the tour of St. Maria's relics provided a wonderful opportunity for East Texans.

From his perspective people were very moved by the relics and the opportunity to pray to St. Maria.

He said in the world today people have such a hard time forgiving. So the presence of St. Maria Goretti, the Patroness of Mercy, and the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy are great opportunities for people to contemplate those issues.

"It's like a collision of exactly what you need," he said.

Twitter: @TMTEmily

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