Modern Day Saint
Saint Maria Goretti
As you can tell from the heading, Maria Goretti was only 12 years old when she gave up her life for her faith. She is the pride of modern Italy, a model for the youth of this world, and an inspiration for other saints.
Maria's mother, Assunta, was an orphan who had never learned to read or write. Her father, Luigi, after finishing his tour of military service, returned to Corinaldo, Italy and married Assunta and began to farm for a living. Maria was the third child of this marriage and was born on October 16, 1890.
Although Luigi worked hard, his small piece of land could not support his growing family. Eventually, when Maria was six years old, the family moved to the Colle Gianturco near Rome. Although the Cimarelli family helped them, the situation there was no better than before, with poverty dominating their lives. Two years later, after becoming acquainted with the Serenelli family, all three families moved to a farm near Nettuno. Unfortunately, malaria was rampant in that area and as a result many died. Luigi fell victim, leaving a 35-year-old widow with six children ages three months to 12 years.
Assunta was forced to take his place in the fields and Maria, who was only nine years old, willingly and generously assumed the household duties and the care of the children. She also assumed the household chores of the Serenellis. This included cleaning, cooking, fetching water from a fountain, washing clothes in a river, as well as mending clothes. Maria would also walk to Nettuno with the Cimarellis to sell eggs and chickens, and with what she got she would buy what the family needed. While in town, they would visit the shrine of Our Lady of Graces to confess, attend Mass, and receive holy communion.
Maria remained uneducated, her diet was meager and her responsibilities went far beyond what was considered bearable for one her age. Maria was always obedient because she was of a meek and loving disposition. She also possessed a spirit of mortification, suffering in silence the shortage of food. Her mother, Assunta, could not relieve her little family of their squalid and harsh situation. Despite her lack of education, Maria's intelligence was apparent to everyone. She also had a certain refinement and delicacy of personality which seemed out of place in the drabness of her surroundings.
While poor in worldly goods, Maria was nevertheless wealthy in the love of the Catholic Faith. Her sanctity can be attributed to the care with which her mother taught her the basics of the Faith and trained her in the way of virtue. Maria also benefited from the sermons of the parish priest and the instructions she received prior to her First Holy Communion.
While the Goretti family, headed by the widowed mother, stayed faithful to the practice of virtue, the Serenelli family was very different. In their part of the house the father sought relief from his poverty through alcohol, and both the father and the son, Alessandro, amused themselves with pornographic magazines. Tragedy was soon to follow.
In June of 1902, the 21 year old Alessandro began to make improper advances to Maria. Because she did not want to burden her mother with another problem, Maria made no mention of it to her. On the morning of July 5, 1902 Alessandro ordered Maria to mend one of his shirts. While her mother was busy threshing, Maria placed her little sister, Theresa, on a quilt beside her while she began to do the mending. After a while, Alessandro, who had been working with Assunta, excused himself and left for the house. After climbing the stairs he grabbed Maria, pulled her into the kitchen, produced a knife and demanded that she submit to him. Protesting that it would be a sin against the law of God to do so and that if he did he would go to Hell, Maria refused to yield. In a rage, Alessandro stabbed her 14 times, each in vital areas: the heart, lungs and intestines.
When little Theresa awoke and began to cry, Assunta sent her son to quiet the baby and to find Maria. He, along with Alessandro's father, found her mortally wounded on the floor of the kitchen. She was taken to the hospital in Nettuno where she was operated on for two hours without anesthetics. Although she could not receive water, she did received Holy Communion, the Last Rites, and was made a Child of Mary. For 20 hours Maria lay in excruciating pain, a model of perfect patience and forgiveness. With her virginity preserved, she spent her last hours on earth praying and forgiving Alessandro for what he had done. "Do you forgive your murderer with all of your heart?" she was asked. Maria replied, "yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him ... I want him to be with me in Paradise."
During her final hours of life, Maria often turned her gaze toward an image of Our Lady, and at the prompting of the chaplain she recited short prayers. Just before she breathed her last, she called, "Theresa," as though she suddenly remembered the child she had left on the landing of the stairs. After this she calmly breathed her last. She was not quite 12 years old.
Alessandro was tried for the murder and received a prison sentence of 30 years. For a time he remained unrepentant, but he at last experienced conversion during a vision of Maria, who appeared to him in his prison cell. During this vision a garden appeared before him while a young girl with dark, golden hair and dressed in white went about gathering lilies. She drew near him with a smile and encouraged him to accept an armful of the flowers. After he accepted them, each lily was transformed into a still, white flame. Maria then disappeared.
Upon his release from prison, Alessandro first sought, and received, forgiveness from Maria's mother and then found employment as a gardener in a Capuchin monastery, where he worked until his death. He testified to Maria's sanctity during the Cause of her Beatification, as did 30 other witnesses who had known her.
Maria was beatified on April 27, 1947 and canonized on June 24 , 1950. Because of the unprecedented crowd attending the ceremony, Pope Pius Xll performed the canonization outdoors, the first such ceremony to be held outside St. Peter's Basilica. Present were Maria's brothers and sister and her mother, Assunta, who had the distinction of being the first mother to witness the canonization of her child.
The above was edited from an article on Maria Goretti in Secular Saints by Joan Carroll Cruz, published by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. This and other Catholic books can be obtained from TAN at PO Box 424, Rockford IL 61105.
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