St Maria Goretti
How does an 11-year-old peasant girl get to be a saint? Consider the life of Maria Goretti, an illiterate Italian peasant child born in 1890. The Goretti family was poor and lived as agricultural labourers, sharing their house with another family, the Serenellis. One of the Serenelli boys, 20-year-old Alessandro, had fixated on Maria and on July 5, 1902 threatened her with a knife and tried to rape her. When she resisted he stabbed her fourteen times. In hospital the next day, before she died, she forgave Alessandro and expressed the wish that they would meet in heaven. Alessandro was convicted of her murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison; he was spared a harsher penalty only after the pleading of Maria’s widowed mother. In prison he had a religious conversion and dreamt that he was visited by the spirit of Maria who gave him lilies (symbol of her purity) which burned in his hands. On his release he was reconciled with Maria’s mother [see photo below] and became a lay Franciscan brother, living to a ripe old age.
The story of Maria’s martyrdom and miracles procured when she was prayed to led to Pope Pius XII declaring her a saint in 1950. 500,000 people filled Rome on the day of her canonization. Her mother was there — the first mother to attend the canonization of a daughter — as was the repentant Alessandro. Maria Goretti is the patron saint of chastity, rape victims, girls, youth, teenage girls, poverty, purity and forgiveness.
Serenelli wrote the following in his old age:
I’m nearly 80 years old. I’m about to depart.
Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.
My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried.
There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.
When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed.
If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.
Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I’ve been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.
I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.
Alessandro Serenelli, May 5, 1961