Just over one hundred and fifteen years ago, little Maria Goretti was killed in Nettuno, Italy.
The Short and Saintly Life of Maria Goretti
Maria’s father died of malaria when she was just nine. After his death, Maria repeatedly said to her mother, “Be brave, God will help us.”
Maria’s family lived in poverty, sharing their home with another family. She was unable to go to school and did not know how to read or write. While her mother, brothers, and sister worked as farmers, she was responsible for the duties within the home.
On a hot summer day in July, twelve-year-old Maria was faithfully tending to her household duties, hemming a shirt in her home in the small village of Le Ferriere. It was then that her eighteen-year-old neighbor, Alessandro, ran up the stairs where she was sewing. Grasping her, he forced her in to her bedroom.
As she cried out for help she said to her attacker, “No, God does not wish it…it is a sin.”
She prevented him from raping her, but he then viciously stabbed her fourteen times. She died less than twenty-four hours later.
Maria courageously surrendered her life to Jesus and held true to the Christian virtue of faith. Not compromising her morals, she sacrificed her own life. In her simple spirit, Maria stayed close to Jesus, trusting in His goodness and love for her. This trust was fostered by the great faith and example of her parents, who knew that their family was a domestic church, the primary place where their children would learn to grow in holiness. Their witness of faith was the groundwork for Maria’s spiritual life and her heart of mercy, which brought her to the point of forgiving her own murderer.
A Model of Chastity
Chastity is a struggle. Even though we may hope that the lives of our young people are safeguarded by naiveté, it seems that young people struggle with this virtue the most. Thankfully, the Church, “…continues to defend and to champion the value of sexuality as a factor that involves every aspect of the person and must therefore be lived with an interior attitude of freedom and reciprocal respect, in the light of God’s original plan” (Pope St. John Paul II).
Maria exemplified this reciprocal respect when she was concerned not only for her safety, but also for the state of her attacker’s soul.
The Miracle of St. Maria Goretti’s Murderer
Just as Maria’s life of virtue was founded upon the example of her parents, Maria’s example planted a seed of faith in her attacker’s life.
Alessandro was very bitter and unapologetic after his thirty-year prison sentence was given to him. But his life changed after a dream where he saw Maria gathering flowers for him. When he came to realize the sin he committed he begged pardon from God. He also asked for forgiveness from Maria’s family when he was released from prison.
In 1950, Maria was canonized a Saint and her attacker, Allessandro Serenelli, was among the 250,000 people gathered to honor her on that day.St. Maria Goretti's murderer was present at her canonization. Her witness changed him. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Meeting Maria Goretti
The reliquary containing St. Maria Goretti’s body is in the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces and St. Maria Goretti in Nettuno, Italy. Here her bones are enveloped in a wax likeness of her body. I have made a pilgrimage to her shrine.
Though I had not known much about her before my visit to Nettuno, I experienced so much grace just by being in the presence of her body and learning about her witness of mercy, and of her reciprocal respect. It challenges me to think of who I need to forgive. Where can I show mercy?
If a child of twelve can courageously endure fourteen painstaking stabs and still forgive her attacker, then I ought to more easily be able to forgive my neighbor for much smaller injustices. As Pope St. John Paul II said:
The only way to peace is forgiveness. -JPII #BISblog // Click To Tweet
The only way to peace is forgiveness.
Are you at peace? I know that I will be asking St. Maria to pray that I have a more merciful heart. I hope that you too will consider adding her to your list of prayer warriors!
Does anyone have St. Maria Goretti as a patron saint? If so, happy feast day!St. Maria Goretti: Peace Through Mercy #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Susanna Parent serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can learn more about her here.