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  • Writer's pictureOmar Gutierrez

A Pure Mercy

On July 6, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Maria Goretti

Maria Goretti, affectionately called Marietta by her family, was born in Corinaldo in 1890. She was the eldest of five children of Luigi and Assunta Goretti. She prayed constantly. The rosary was always tied around her wrist since, after a time, she could not go long without praying it. When she reached the age for First Communion, Maria insisted on receiving despite the fact that her mother argued that there was no time for preparation, no money to pay for the proper dress and veil, and no way that Maria could read or write well enough to learn her catechism. Undaunted, Maria found a way and received First Communion in May 1902 just a few weeks before her martyrdom. The whole town pitched in to get her the proper attire since she was known for her piety.

On a hot July 5th in 1902 Maria was attacked by Alessandro Serenelli, her eighteen-year-old neighbor. He demanded she give in to his desires. She said, “No! No! It is a sin!” Her response drove Alessandro mad, though, and he stabbed her multiple times. The sin to which St. Maria Goretti refers is not to suggest that she would have sinned if Alessandro had taken her or if she has said “yes.” In that case she would have borne no responsibility and would not have sinned at all. She was asking him to stop for his sake. She cared for his soul, as is clear since, in the remaining hours of her life, this eleven-year-old girl forgave Alessandro in no uncertain terms saying, “Yes, I forgive him and want him to be in Paradise with me some day.” She died on the 6th of July in 1902 at three o’clock in the afternoon.

Through the intervention of the police, Alessandro avoided being lynched on the spot. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison. For eight years of those years, he was the same boy in a man’s body. However, one night in that eighth year he had a dream in which Maria appeared to him, approached him, and handed him lilies, the flower of pure chastity.

He took them. He took all fourteen of them, the same number as the times he had stabbed her. Then Maria said to him with a kind of firm confidence, “Alessandro, as I have promised, your soul shall someday reach me in heaven.” Alessandro awoke a completely changed man.

He remained in prison for twenty-seven of the thirty-year sentence. He was released early due to good behavior. When he left, he wandered for a time but ended up with some Franciscans. After eight years, Alessandro mustered enough courage to see Assunta, Maria’s mother. On Christmas of 1937 he begged her forgiveness, which she gave with the same grace that her daughter showed.

On June 24th, 1950 Pope Pius XII canonized Maria Goretti for her testament to the virtue of chastity and fortitude. It was the first time in history that the mother was present at the saint’s canonization. It was also, as the Holy Father put it, the first time that St. Peter’s was “hopelessly inadequate” to contain the mass of humanity that had come out to celebrate the life of Maria Goretti. At one point, Pope Pius veered from his script and cried out, “What this little girl did, are you Christian people prepared to imitate?” To this the crowd responded loudly, “We are.” And the Holy Father could do nothing but to pause and wipe the tears from his eyes at the sight and sound of grace and mercy on earth.

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