July 5, 2017

St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Maria Goretti

July 6th, is the optional memorial of Saint Maria Goretti. It is a rare thing for an immediate family member to be present at a saint’s canonization. It is even more uncommon for a murderer to be there as well—especially if that man was the one responsible for the death of the person being canonized. And yet, that is precisely what happened in 1950, when Pope Pius XII pronounced Maria Goretti a saint.

Maria was born on October 16, 1890, in Corinaldo, Ancona, Italy, the eldest of five children. Her parents were poor sharecroppers and, in 1899 when Maria was only nine, her father Luigi moved the family to the tiny town of Ferriere, Italy, in hopes of finding work to feed his family. Little did he know that the business agreement he made there with a man known as Signor Serenelli would lead to such profound consequences for his oldest daughter.

Serenelli had a son named Alessandro, who was older than Maria by six years. Although those who knew her often remarked on Maria’s “grace and holiness,” apparently the same could not be said for Alessandro. He bothered her constantly, propositioning her repeatedly and tormenting her with lewd suggestions, all of which she steadfastly refused. What made it more difficult for the young girl was that her family shared a house with Alessandro’s family. This had apparently been part of the bargain that her father had made with the elder Serenelli when the family first moved to Ferriere.

Then, tragedy struck the Gorettis. Maria’s father contracted malaria and died, leaving her mother a widow with five children. Maria, exhibiting a maturity far beyond her years, immediately took over much of the care of her younger brothers and sisters in order to help her mother. It was remarked that, unlike many of the other children in the town, she did not complain about the added chores that now rested on her shoulders. Rather, she accepted what had come to her with a sense of cheerfulness and devotion.

Perhaps it was because her father was no longer, one fateful day Alessandro brutally assaulted her, stabbing her 14 times with an ice pick. Although Maria was taken to doctors in nearby Nettuno, nothing could be done for her. She lived for another 20 hours, receiving the last sacraments and, remarkably, forgiving her tormentor and murderer. Maria died on July 6, 1902; she was 11 years old.

Alessandro was captured and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Despite the judgment against him and Maria’s deathbed forgiveness, he remained stubbornly unrepentant for his crime. For eight years he persisted in his impenitence, until one night he had a dream about Maria. In it, she handed him 14 lilies and repeated her forgiveness. This time, he accepted it. When he awoke, he was a completely changed man.

As soon as he was released from prison, Alessandro did two things; first, he went to Maria’s mother to beg for her forgiveness, which she gave. He then went to live with the Capuchin Franciscans, and spent the rest of his life doing penance.

He did emerge one time from his self-imposed discipline, and that was on June 24, 1950. On that day, Alessandro Serenelli stood with Maria’s mother in St. Peter’s Square in Rome to hear Pope Pius XII pronounce Maria Goretti a saint and martyr of the universal Church. St. Maria Goretti is the patron of youth, young women, purity, and victims of rape. O God, author if innocence and lover of chastity, who bestowed the grace of martyrdom on your handmaid, the Virgin Saint Maria Goretti, in her youth, grant, we pray, through her intercession, that, we may be firm in obeying your commandments. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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