“In Maria Goretti shines out the radical choice of the Gospel, unhindered, indeed strengthened by the inevitable sacrifice that faithful adherence to Christ demands.” These are the powerful words of St. John Paul II, referring to the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church. Not to be underestimated because of her youth, she demonstrated the power of Divine Mercy through her incredible capacity to forgive. Maria was born in 1890 to Assunta and Luigi in Corinaldo, Italy, a poor couple with a great love for the Catholic faith. From an early age, they instilled in her a fervent love for God and His Blessed Mother. The lack of toys and schooling due to their poverty never seemed to bother Maria, who enjoyed the gift of life and lived in the present moment. Yet her mother noticed her extraordinary maturity, always submitting willingly to her parents’ obedience and giving generously around the house to care for her younger siblings. Their poverty forced the family to move when Maria was eight, and they became tenant farmers. They were joined by their business partners, the Serenelli family, with their sixteen year old son, Alessandro.
The family was left even more destitute following Luigi’s tragic death from malaria. The death of her father brought a newfound strength out of Maria, who comforted her sorrowing mother, and put her faith in God’s loving providence. She immediately stepped up in taking more responsibilities around the house. Her sacrifices and deep love of God paved the way for her to receive Holy Communion in 1902, where the priest preached the message, “Purity at all costs.” This was a lesson Maria absorbed and would even die for just a few months later.
In June of that year, the nearly twenty-year-old Alessandro Serenelli, a man treated by Maria as an older brother, had repeatedly made advances towards her. Recognizing his malicious intent, Maria rejected him and attempted to avoid him as much as possible. She refrained from telling anyone that he had threatened her life because she was afraid of bringing more grief to her mother. On July 5th, 1902, Alessandro aggressively and violently demanded her to give in to him. She fought back with every fiber of her being, protecting her own purity but also that of Alessandro. In his fury, he stabbed her with a nine-inch blade fourteen times. When she was discovered, she was brought the hospital where she lay in excruciating agony for twenty hours. The priest who gave her First Communion came to give her Viaticum, and asked her if she forgave Alessandro. She said,”Yes, I too, for the love of Jesus, forgive him…and I want him to be with me in Paradise…May God forgive him, because I already have forgiven him.” She died on July 6th, 1902.
Alessandro was sentenced to thirty years in prison. The first eight years were completely devoid of remorse for the murder he committed. But God broke through the hardness of his heart one night when Maria appeared in a dream, in a field of flowers, holding fourteen white lilies to represent her fourteen stab wounds. She told Alessandro that she forgave him. From that moment on, he was completely repentant, and converted to a life of holiness. Touched by her radiant charity, he later reflected, “I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer”. He eventually became a Franciscan lay brother. In 1937, Maria’s mother was inspired by the example of her daughter who was so willing to extend her forgiveness to her murderer. She not only forgave Alessandro, but in another heroic act of forgiveness, took him in as a son. The two were present together at Maria’s canonization in 1950.