Rape, Murder, Sainthood
Today is the feast day of the blessed St. Maria Goretti who, on July 5th, 1902 was stabbed repeatedly by a young man intent on raping her. She was eleven.
Maria’s father had died of malaria when she was younger and her mother and siblings ended up having to work on a farm for other farmers. While they all worked in the field, Maria stayed home cleaning, cooking, and taking care of her baby sister. They lived in a building with another man and his son who was 20 years old at the time. On July 5th, the son, Alessandro came into her house while all the other family members were working in the fields and threatened her with death if she did not submit to his intention to rape her. She would not submit protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning Alessandro that he would go to Hell. She fought to stop him and she kept screaming, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” Alessandro at first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. The injured Maria tried to reach for the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.
When the father and Maria’s mother came home they found the bleeding Maria and took her to the nearest hospital in Nettuno. She underwent surgery without anesthesia, but her injuries were beyond the doctors’ help. The pharmacist of the hospital in which she died said to her, “Maria, think of me in Paradise.”
She looked to the old man: “Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first?”
“You, Maria,” he replied. “Then I will gladly think of you,” said Maria.
The following day, twenty hours after the attack, having fully expressed forgiveness for her murderer and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, Maria died of her injuries.
Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after Maria’s death. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life, but since he was a minor at that time the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini visited him in jail. Serenelli wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, “in which Maria Goretti gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands.”
After his release, Alessandro Serenelli visited Maria’s still-living mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed then who was she to offer anything less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as “my little saint. He attended her canonization in 1950. Serenelli later became a laybrother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and gardener until dying peacefully in 1970.¹
What is the most amazing thing to me is not that she resisted his attack but that she completely and totally forgave him wanting him to join her in Heaven. Not only that, but the assailant repented, and did even more than that, he became a laybrother for the Capuchins. What miraculous things can happen when the power of forgiveness is imputed. Who in their lives could honestly imagine lying in a hospital emergency room, being stitched up without anesthetic, feeling your life slipping away from you and unreservedly forgiving the person who did it? Even more so, to see it happen to someone you loved so dearly and offering absolute forgiveness to the person who did it.
St. Maria Goretti has impressed me with her story from before I properly knew her name. The nobility of her actions both in the face of being violated and the face of death. This story has always been remarkable to me and I take a great pleasure in recognizing her on this day for her remarkable virtue and charity. Would that I was even half of that sort of humility and sense of forgiveness for the most wretched in society. Both our lives might then be saved.
“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… “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… 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.”
Signature, Alessandro Serenelli²
1. The account transcribed here is taken mostly from the official webpage for St. Maria Goretti found here.
2. Alessandro Serenelli’s testamony found here