The story of St. Maria Goretti is one that resonates with people of all cultures and ages.
History and Church Tradition tell us of the brutal deaths many Christians endured for the love and reverence of Christ. Many martyrs were burned at the stake or stoned to death – methods of murder that make one’s skin crawl – and St. Maria Goretti’s death was no less gruesome. However, St. Maria Goretti was not killed because of her faith in Christ. Nor was she forced to deny her love for Jesus like many martyrs.
St. Maria Goretti died trying to ward off a rapist.
St. Maria Goretti’s story is one that would make the writers of the television drama Law & Order cringe. Yet, her story is real. It is true, and not just a fabrication of a screenwriter’s mind. St. Maria Goretti’s story is one that speaks to all hearts – especially in today’s sexually charged culture.
St. Maria Goretti was born in Italy in 1890 to a poor family, and she was one of seven children. The members of her family were no strangers to distress. The Gorettis knew heartache and destitution quite well. St. Maria Goretti’s father, Luigi Goretti, was an unsuccessful businessman, and due to his small income, the family was forced to share a house with a neighboring family, the Serenellis. St. Maria’s father died when she was only 9 years old. Likewise, one of her younger siblings also died at 8 months old. After her father’s death, St. Maria was forced to take on many of the daily chores and raise her brothers and sisters while her mother, Assunta, worked to support the family.
Times grew steadily harder for the Goretti family. In the wake of Luigi’s death, Assunta had a very difficult time making ends meet. Then one day, Alessandro Serenelli, one of the Serenelli children, attacked and tried to rape St. Maria. St. Maria, who was only 11 years old at the time and determined to protect her virginity, resisted his advances, screaming that she would rather die than let him taint her purity. Alessandro, armed with a dagger, grew weary of St. Maria’s resistance and stabbed her to death on the front steps of the Goretti/Serenelli home.
Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after St. Maria’s death. Because he was a minor, Alessandro was spared the death penalty and was instead sentenced to 30 years in prison. For three years, he remained unrepentant of his crime until a local bishop, Bishop Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. Soon after the bishop’s visit, Alessandro wrote him a “thank you” letter, explaining that St. Maria Goretti visited him in a dream and handed him a bouquet of lilies, which burst into flames as soon as they touched his hands.
After Alessandro was released from prison, years later, he visited St. Maria’s still-living mother, Assunta, and pleaded with her for forgiveness. Assunta forgave him, saying that if St. Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed, then she could do the same. They attended Mass together the very next day, receiving Holy Communion side-by-side. From that day until the day of his death, in 1970, Alessandro prayed to St. Maria Goretti as “his little saint.” He eventually became a Capuchin monk and spent the rest of his days in a monastery, working as a gardener and receptionist.
As we celebrate St. Maria Goretti’s feast day, on July 6, remember her courage, morality and willingness to forgive.