Maria Teresa Goretti was born in Corinaldo, Italy, on October 16, 1890. Her father Luigi was a farmer, but when Maria was six the family fell on hard times. Luigi was forced to give up his farm and work for other farmers. The family moved to Ferrier di Conca, near Anzio. When Maria was only nine, her father died of malaria and her mother had to struggle to feed her children. While her mother, brothers, and older sister worked in the fields, Maria would cook, sew, watch her infant sister, and keep the house clean. Life was hard, but the family was very close. They shared a deep faith in God.
The family lived in a large building along with other farm worker families, including Giovanni Serenelli and his eighteen year old son, Alessandro. On July 5, 1902 Alessandro came into the room where the eleven year old Maria was alone sewing. He had persistently been seeking sexual favors from Maria and she was always able to resist him, but this time he threatened her with a knife if she did not do as he said. Maria would not submit to the intended rape, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning Alessandro that he would go to hell. She fought desperately to stop him. Alessandro started choking Maria, but when she said she would rather die than submit he stabbed her several times with his knife, and then ran away.
The violence awoke the infant. When Maria’s mother came to check on the crying child, she found the bleeding Maria and took her to the nearest hospital. Surgery was unsuccessful and Maria died less than 24 hours after the attack. Before she died, Maria expressed forgiveness for her murderer, stating that she hoped that he could one day be in heaven with her.
Alessandro was captured and sentenced to thirty years in prison. For three years he was unrepentant and had no communication with the outside world. Then one day the local bishop visited him. Some time later, Alessandro wrote a thank you note to the bishop, asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream he had in which “Maria Goretti gave him lilies which burned immediately in his hands.” When he woke, he repented of his crime and vowed to live a reformed life.
When Alessandro was released 27 years later he went directly to Maria’s still-living mother Assunta to beg her forgiveness. She forgave him saying, “If my daughter could forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness?” The next day they attended Mass together, receiving communion side by side.
On June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII canonized Maria as a saint. Assunta was there, the first mother ever to attend the canonization of her child. Alessandro was also there. He later became a lay brother of an Order of Friars, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and gardener until he died in 1970.
Maria Goretti’s feast day is celebrated on July 6th. She is the patron saint for youth and victims of rape.
I Peter 3:9 — Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
Matthew 5:43-46 — (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
Colossians 3:13 — Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
A PRAYER FOR THE ABILITY TO FORGIVE by Martin Luther:
My Lord Jesus, look at how my neighbor has injured me, slandered my honor with his talk, and interfered with my rights. I cannot tolerate this, and so I wish he were out of my way. O God, hear my complaint. I cannot feel kindly toward him, even though I know I should. See how cold and insensible I am. O Lord, I can’t help it, and so I stand forsaken. If you change me, I will be devout and have better thoughts. Otherwise, I must remain as I am. O dear God, change me by your grace. Amen.