Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

A Wonderful Journey, A Remarkable Gift

On Monday, November 5, 2018, a group of 26 men and women set out on Family Honor’s Pilgrimage to the Shrines of France.

It was an incredible journey in many ways. (To see some photos from the pilgrimage, go to:

Led by Family Honor’s Chaplain, Rev. Philip Gillespie, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Anderson, SC, and Brenda Cerkez, executive director of Family Honor, the schedule promised to be a full one – and it was!

After multiple plane changes and a bus ride, the pilgrims’ first stop was Lourdes, France, where they spent two days. Father Gillespie said his first Mass in France in the small chapel of St. Ann, located within the beautiful Basilica at Lourdes. While at Lourdes, pilgrims had the opportunity to explore the Basilica and town and also to be immersed in the healing baths at Lourdes.

It was during the time in Lourdes that one of the pilgrims presented Mrs. Cerkez with a remarkable gift: a small, first class relic of Saint Maria Goretti. (See photo above.) For those who are not familiar with Saint Maria, here is a short excerpt from, a web site dedicated to the saint:

St. Maria Goretti is unique in that she is the youngest canonized saint in the Church.  She died tragically on July 6, 1902, at the age of eleven …

… when Maria was nine, her father died … It fell to her at that time to raise her five siblings while her mother worked the fields to produce the crops with which they would both pay the rent and feed themselves. This was a terrible time of trial and suffering for the whole family.  For Maria it was especially difficult.  Aside from having the responsibility of caring for her family, she had to also cook and clean for her two next door neighbors–Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro–who assisted her mother with the farm tasks.

It was also during this time that Alessandro began to develop an impure liking for Maria … at a certain point he began to make direct sexual advances towards her, demanding her virginity and threatening her with violence for non-compliance.

Finally, after many months of this, Alessandro forced himself upon Maria in an attempt to rape her.  Though she prevented him from violating her, Alessandro brutally stabbed her numerous times.  Maria died the next day in the midst of horrendous infection brought on by her lacerations. Her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”

During his prison sentence Maria appeared to Alessandro and forgave him.  That act of mercy and forgiveness—that act of love—filled Alessandro with contrition for his crime.  It was also a turning point for him where grace entered his heart.  From that point on, he lived a beautiful and converted life of holiness, eventually becoming a Franciscan lay brother. To read more on this website, go to:

“We have a new patron saint!” remarked Mrs. Cerkez regarding the relic of St. Maria. “It is so absolutely perfect and extraordinary that we have been given the relic of a young girl who died defending her purity and who showed such Christ-like love and forgiveness to her attacker. It’s interesting to note, as well, that, at age 11, she was the age of the average child who participates in our introductory program for parents and children, Changes & Challenges.”

Mrs. Cerkez said that she is setting up a small niche at the Family Honor office where the relic will be placed and venerated. (For more information on the veneration of relics:

She encourages families to pray to St. Maria Goretti for the saint’s intercession. According to the web site devoted to St. Maria, “Maria is known as a wonder-worker.  She has intervened with the Lord to produce countless miracles.  Of all the saints (over 160) whose relics Fr. Carlos Martins, Director of Treasures of the Church, ministers with, Maria is the one who by far has produced the most miracles.”

After receiving this inspiring gift at Lourdes, Mrs. Cerkez and the Family Honor Pilgrimage group continued their journey, travelling to Ars, Lyon, Nevers, Paray-le-Monial, and Paris to visit sites that were significant in the life of St. John Vianney (the Cure of Ars), St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Bernadette, St. Catherine Laboure, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. They returned to the United States on Nov. 13 with a beautiful array of spiritual experiences and vivid remembrances of all the holy places visited. One pilgrim summed up her feelings by stating: “Thanks much for all you have done to make the pilgrimage such a wonderful experience with so many memories and heartfelt opportunities to grow. I find each day I have more to draw upon as all the things I experienced kind of settle in.”

Want to grow your spiritual life in a unique and special way? Please consider joining us on a pilgrimage! Family Honor is currently looking at possible options for our next trip.  If you’d like us to include you on our notification list, email us at: or call us: 803.929.0858.