St. Maria Goretti (Feast: July 6)
In 1950 in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome, a crowd of 250,000 people gathered for the canonization of a twelve-year-old girl, Maria Goretti, who died resisting an attempted rape.
Maria was the third of six children of an Italian farmer and his wife, Luigi and Assunta Goretti, good and devout people who, forced to sell their farm, took up tenant farming, sharing a house with a Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro.
Luigi Goretti died of malaria when Maria was nine, and Assunta, her brothers and sister worked the fields, while Maria kept house and watched her baby sister. Alessandro began to stalk Maria, who although afraid, said nothing because he had threatened to kill her.
One day as Maria sewed at the top of the stairs leading to their house, the baby nearby, nineteen-year-old Alessandro dragged her inside and threatened her with a knife if she did not submit to him. She struggled with all her might, all the while shouting, “No, God does not wish it, it is a sin! You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro tried to choke her but she gasped that she would rather die than submit. Infuriated, he pulled out a sharp dagger and stabbed her eleven times. As the wounded girl tried to reach the door, he stopped her by stabbing her another three times.
At the cries of the frightened baby, Assunta and Giovanni found Maria and rushed her to the hospital. She died twenty-four hours later, clutching a crucifix to her chest, invoking the Blessed Virgin and forgiving her murderer.
Alessandro, at first sentenced to life imprisonment, was given thirty years for being a minor at the time of the crime. It is said that Assunta also interceded for him.
He remained surly and uncommunicative for three years until a local bishop, Giovanni Blandini, visited him, to whom he revealed a vision of Maria handing him lilies. After this vision, he made a full conversion and was released on good behaviour after twenty-seven years. He also declared that, indeed, Maria died a virgin. His first action was to seek Assunta and beg her forgiveness, which she readily granted saying: “If Maria forgave you, I can do no less,” and they attended Mass together the next day.
Maria’s mother, her three brothers and a sister attended her beatification in 1947. Three years later, Assunta was also present at her canonization, and so was Alessandro. Pope Pius XII called Maria, “the St. Agnes of the twentieth century.”
Alessandro who joined the Order of Friars Minor as a lay brother, died peacefully in 1970.