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Saint of Purity, Maria Goretti

Fr. Scott A. Haynes


In the spring of 1902, Maria Goretti, though illiterate, had completed her Catechism instructions in order to receive her First Holy Communion. She was twelve years old. How she had longed to take Jesus into her heart often! Once a week on Sunday just did not seem like enough. This serious little girl had matured spiritually beyond her years.

Assunta, Maria’s mother, noticed her young daughter's character changing. There was no childish playfulness left in Maria. The cares of the world clouded her eyes with sadness. Her night prayers become longer. She examined her conscience repeatedly for occasions of sin, her small body trembled with fear and bitter sobs.

Mother Assunta assumed Maria was tired from the heavy work at the farm. But that was not it. A young twenty-year old man, Alexander Serenelli, her next-door neighbor, had been stalking her for months now, prowling about with evil in his heart, threatening to kill her if she told a soul. Maria did not tell her mother, Assunta, for fear of burdening her mother with more cares and creating more trouble with the Serenelli family.

On Saturday, July 5th, the intense summer sun burned down on the farmyard. Assunta watched her children playfully helping with the threshing. She gazed upon them with intense love. They were her last joy left in this life. Maria was up on the porch outside of the kitchen, fingers flying with needle and thread, baby Theresa asleep at her feet.

The young Maria Goretti was lost in thought, too. She was rejoicing in eager anticipation of going to Mass. How she longed to share herself with Jesus. She was going to go to Confession and Communion.

Then suddenly, Maria Goretti was startled by the sound of footsteps behind her. It was Alexander Serenelli. He demanded she come into the kitchen. She froze in terror. Maria's silence further inflamed his foul passions. He grabbed her arm, dragged her into the kitchen, pressed a dagger to her throat and bolted the door. He was about to rape her.

Courageous Maria fought him fiercely and screamed,
No! No Alexander! It is a sin. God forbids it. You will go to hell, Alexander. You will go to hell if you do it!
While she screamed no one heard her and no one came to the rescue. As she fought him, he stabbed her 14 times with the knife.

Maria passed out from this attack and lay bleeding on the floor. When she regained consciousness for a moment, she heard the children playing and the monotonous sound of the threshing. The baby Theresa was crying at the edge of the porch. Maria attempted to lift herself up so that she could open the kitchen door. Her call for help was not heard. She was too faint. Every cry for help only caused more pain.

Alessandro’s father, Giovanni, was taking a nap. He woke up and heard the infant crying, and in an instant of exasperation for what he thought was Maria's neglect, headed up the stairs. His shout brought Assunta and the neighbors running, hearts pounding. They found Maria, tortured with pain, badly bruised and lying in a pool of blood.

Assunta, recovering from shock questioned her sweet Maria, who answered,
It was Alexander, Mama... Because he wanted me to commit an awful sin and I would not.
Maria was laid tenderly on a bed while a neighbor summoned the ambulance. Mama Assunta tried to soothe her daughter's agony as the ambulance wagon bumped along on that torturous trip to the hospital in Nettuno. The doctors attempted to repair the extensive damage but could give Assunta no encouragement. Maria unconsciously cried as she resisted Alexander's demands over and over.

When Maria Goretti opened her eyes on the next day, July 6, they were transfixed upon the Statue of Our Lady placed at the foot of her bed. Awake she seemed to remember nothing of the previous day's horrors and wished only to know of the well-being of her family.

The parish priest came in to offer her Viaticum, but first she took time to reflect on the good Father's reminder that Jesus had pardoned those who had crucified Him. As she gazed at the crucifix on the far wall, she said without anger or resentment,
I, too, pardon him. I, too, wish that he could come some day and join me in heaven.
Mother Assunta's tears flowed hot and heavy as she gave her sweet Maria her last mortal mother's kiss. As the bells throughout the city were proclaiming the Vespers hour, Jesus came to gather sweet Maria into His eternal protection, her reward for strength and virtue beyond her tender years.

Mama Assunta and Alexander Serenelli


On the day of her canonization Pope Pius XII spoke these words…
We greet you, O beautiful and lovable saint! Martyr on earth and angel in heaven, look down from your glory on this people, which loves you, which venerates, glorifies and exalts you. On your forehead you bear the full brilliant and victorious name of Christ.
In your virginal countenance may be read the strength of your love and the constancy of your fidelity to your Divine Spouse. As his bride espoused in blood, you have traced in yourself His own image. To you, therefore, powerful intercessor with the Lamb of God, we entrust these our sons and daughters who are present here, and those countless others who are united with us in spirit.
For while they admire our heroism, they are even more desirous of imitating your strength of faith and your inviolate purity of conduct. Fathers and mothers have recourse to you, asking you to help them in their task of education. In you, through our hand, the children and the young people will find a safe refuge, trusting that they shall be protected from every contamination, and be able to walk the highways of life with that serenity of spirit and deep joy which is the heritage of those who are pure of heart. Amen. (Homily of Pope Pius XII, June 24, 1950)

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