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Saint Maria Goretti

Virgin-Martyr; one of the youngest canonized saints
Born in Corinaldo, Province of Ancona (Italy) on 16 October 1890
Died on 6 July 1902, aged 11, in Nettuno, Province of Rome
Beatified in 1947 & canonized on 24 June 1950 by Pope Pius XII
Feast Day - 6th July

3 2us by Father Francis Selman      

"The example of St Maria Goretti strengthens us to hold fast to the virtues of courage and chastity, which alone can bring us happiness, joy in life and peace in our relationships."

Christine, from England chose Maria as her Incredible Saint      

"I’ve had a long devotion to St Maria Goretti particularly as I’ve become a mother, a mother of four, and the importance of trying to protect my children from all the secular pressures that they’re under, in particular sexual pressures and what that can do to their dignity and their well-being as a child of God. For that intention I’ve always invoked St Maria Goretti. St Maria Goretti was a young girl in Italy from a poor family and she was attacked by a man and he tried to rape her. She fought him off to protect her chastity and her dignity. She was stabbed repeatedly and taken to hospital. On her deathbed in hospital she forgave her attacker."

Short biography

Born to a farming family, Maria's father died when she was nine. The Gorettis had to share a farmhouse with another family, the Serenellis. Maria took over household duties while her mother & siblings worked in the fields. One day, 20 year old Alessandro Serenellis made sexual advances to her and when she refused to submit to him, he stabbed her 14 times. She was taken to hospital where she died after forgiving him.

In 2002 Noel Crusz, a journalist, wrote about his interviews with Maria's assailant Alessandro Serenelli and Maria's sister Ersilia in 1952: On July 5 in 1902, exactly a hundred years ago, at 3 pm whilst [Maria's mother] Assunta and the other children were at the threshing floor, Serenelli who persistently sought sexual favours from the 11-year-old girl approached her. She was taking care of her infant sister in the farm house. Allesandro threatened her with a 10 inch dagger, and when Maria refused, as she had always done, he stabbed her 14 times. The wounds penetrated the throat, with lesions of the pericardium, the heart, the lungs and the diaphragm. Surgeons at Orsenigo were surprised that the girl was still alive. In a dying deposition, in the presence of the Chief of Police, Maria told her mother of Serenelli's sexual harassment, and two previous attempts made to rape her. She was afraid to reveal this earlier since she was threatened with death.

After Allesandro Serenelli's release from prison, he 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 she could not do 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 he died peacefully in 1970.

Pope Pius XII's homily at Maria Goretti's canonization
St Peter's Square, Saturday 24 June 1950
at which 82 years old Assunta Goretti and two of her children (Maria's mother & siblings) were present, along with over 250,000 people.

"... By the loving providence of God, we have assisted this evening at the supreme exaltation of a humble daughter of the people, in a ceremony whose solemnity and dignity are unique in the history of the Church.

For tonight's canonization has been held in this vast and inviting place of mystery, made for the occasion into a sacred temple whose vault is the open heaven that proclaims the glories of Almighty God — a choice for which you first expressed the desire before I had decided to make the disposition.

The concourse of the faithful coming here for the occasion exceeds anything that has ever been witnessed at any other occasion. You have been lured here, we might almost say, by the entrancing beauty and intoxicating fragrance of this lily mantled with crimson whom I, only a moment ago, had the intense pleasure of inscribing in the roll of the saints; the sweet little martyr of purity, Maria Goretti. ..

Why does this story move you even to tears? Why has Maria Goretti so quickly conquered your hearts, and taken first place in your affections? The reason is because there is still in this world, apparently sunk and immersed in the worship of pleasure, not only a meager little band of chosen souls who thirst for heaven and its pure air — but a crowd, nay, an immense multitude on whom the supernatural fragrance of Christian purity exercise an irresistible and reassuring fascination.

During the past fifty years, coupled with what was often a weak reaction on the part of decent people, there has been a conspiracy of evil practices, propagating themselves in books and illustrations, in theaters and radio programs, in styles and clubs and on the beaches, trying to work their way into the hearts of the family and society, and doing their worst damage among the youth, even among those of the tenderest years in whom the possession of virtue is a natural inheritance. ....

Dearly beloved youth, young men and women, who are the special object of the love of Jesus and of us, tell me, are you resolved to resist firmly, with the help of divine grace, against every attempt made to violate your chastity? ..

You fathers and mothers, tell me — in the presence of this vast multitude, and before the image of this young virgin who by her inviolate candour has stolen your hearts... in the presence of her mother who educated her to martyrdom and who, as much as she felt the bitterness of the outrage, is now moved with emotion as she invokes her, tell me, are you ready to assume the solemn duty laid upon you to watch, as far as in you lies, over your sons and daughters, to preserve and defend them against so many dangers that surround them, and to keep them always far away from places where they might learn the practices of impiety and of moral perversion?

Finally, all of you who are intently listening to our words, know that above the unhealthy marshes and filth of the world, stretches an immense heaven of beauty. It is the heaven which fascinated little Maria; the heaven to which she longed to ascend by the only road that leads there, which is, religion, the love of Christ, and the heroic observance of his Commandments.

We greet you, O beautiful and lovable saint! Martyr on earth and angel in heaven, look down from your glory on this people, which loves you, which venerates, glorifies and exalts you. On your forehead you bear the full brilliant and victorious name of Christ. In your virginal countenance may be read the strength of your love and the constancy of your fidelity to your Divine Spouse. As his bride espoused in blood, you have traced in yourself His own image. To you, therefore, powerful intercessor with the Lamb of God, we entrust these our sons and daughters who are present here, and those countless others who are united with us in spirit. For while they admire our heroism, they are even more desirous of imitating your strength of faith and your inviolate purity of conduct. Fathers and mothers have recourse to you, asking you to help them in their task of education. In you, through our hand, the children and the young people will find a safe refuge, trusting that they shall be protected from every contamination, and be able to walk the highways of life with that serenity of spirit and deep joy which is the heritage of those who are pure of heart. Amen."

Pope Pius XII's Prayer to St Maria Goretti

Hail, O sweet and lovable Saint!
Martyr on earth and Angel in Heaven,
from your glory turn your gaze
on these people who love you,
venerate you, glorify and exalt you.

On your forehead, clear and shining,
you bear the victorious name of Christ (Rev 3, 12);
on your virginal face is the power of love,
the constancy of fidelity to the Divine Bridegroom;
you became a Bride of blood, to print his image within you.

To you, who can powerfully influence the Lamb of God,
we entrust these sons and daughters here present
and all the others who are spiritually united to us.

They admire your heroism, but especially, they long to imitate
you with the zeal of faith and incorruptible moral purity.

To you fathers and mothers turn, that you may assist them in their educational mission.

In you, through Our hands, all children and young people find shelter,
so that they may be protected from all contamination
and advance on the path of life in the serenity and joy of the pure in heart. So be it!"

And so may it be for us all! Amen.

St John Paul II's message for the centenary of St Maria Goretti's death
- also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

To my Venerable Brother Bishop Agostino Vallini of Albano
1. A hundred years ago, on 6 July 1902, Maria Goretti died in the hospital at Nettuno, brutally stabbed the day before in the little village of Le Ferriere, in the Pontine Marshes. Her spiritual life, the strength of her faith, her ability to forgive her murderer have placed her among the best-loved saints of the 20th century. Appropriately, therefore, the Congregation of the Passion (CP), entrusted with the care of the shrine where the saint's remains repose, wanted to celebrate the anniversary with special solemnity.

St Maria Goretti was a girl whom God's Spirit endowed with the courage to stay faithful to her Christian vocation even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of her life. Her tender age, her lack of education and the poverty of the environment in which she lived did not prevent grace from working its miracles in her. Indeed, it was precisely in these conditions that God's special love for the lowly appeared. We are reminded of the words with which Jesus blesses the heavenly Father for revealing himself to children and the simple, rather than to the wise and learned of the world (cf Mt 11, 25).

It was rightly observed that St Maria Goretti's martyrdom heralded what was to be known as the century of martyrs. It was in this perspective that at the end of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I stressed that "this lively sense of repentance ... has not prevented us from giving glory to the Lord for what he has done in every century, and in particular during the century which we have just left behind, by granting his Church a great host of saints and martyrs" (Novo Millennio ineunte,  7).

2. Maria Goretti, born in Corinaldo in The Marches on 16 October 1890, was soon obliged to emigrate with her family, and after sometime they arrived at Le Ferriere di Conca in the Pontine Marshes. Despite the hardships of poverty which even prevented her from going to school, little Maria lived in a serene and united family atmosphere, enlivened by Christian faith, in which the children felt welcomed as a gift and were taught by their parents self-respect and respect for others, as well as a sense of duty based on love of God. This enabled the little girl to grow up peacefully, nourishing her simple but deep faith. The Church has always recognized the role of the family as the first and fundamental place for the sanctification of its members, starting with the children.

In this family environment Maria assimilated steadfast trust in God's provident love, which she showed in particular at the death of her father, who died of malaria. "Mother, be brave, God will help us", the little girl was in the habit of saying in those difficult times, bravely reacting to her deep feeling of loss at her father's death.

3. In the homily for her canonization, Pope Pius XII of venerable memory pointed to Maria Goretti as "the sweet little martyr of purity" (cf Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, XII [1950-1951], 121), because she did not break God's commandment in spite of being threatened by death.

What a shining example for young people! The non-commital mindset of much of our society and culture today sometimes has a struggle to understand the beauty and value of chastity. A high and noble perception of dignity, her own and that of others emerges from the behaviour of this young saint, was mirrored in her daily choices, giving them the fullness of human meaning. Is not there a very timely lesson in this? In a culture that idolizes the physical aspect of the relations between a man and a woman, the Church continues to defend and to champion the value of sexuality as a factor that involves every aspect of the person and must therefore be lived with an interior attitude of freedom and reciprocal respect, in the light of God's original plan. With this outlook, a person discovers he or she is being given a gift and is called, in turn, to be a gift to the other.

In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte I noted that "in the Christian view of marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman - a mutual and total bond, unique and indissoluble - is part of God's original plan, obscured throughout history by "hardness of heart', but which Christ came to restore to its pristine splendour, disclosing what had been God's will "from the beginning' (Mt 19, 8). Raised to the dignity of a sacrament, marriage expresses the "great mystery' of Christ's nuptial love for his Church (cf Eph 5, 32)" (n 47).

It cannot be denied that today the threats to the unity and stability of the family are many. However, at the same time there is a renewed awareness of the child's right to be raised in love, protected from every kind of danger and educated so as to be able to set out in life with confidence and fortitude.

4. In the heroic testimony of the saint of Le Ferriere, her forgiveness of the man who killed her and her desire to be able to meet him one day in heaven deserve special attention. This spiritual and social message is of extraordinary relevance in our time.

The recent Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, among other aspects, was marked by a profound appeal for pardon in the context of the celebration of God's mercy. The divine indulgence for human shortcomings is a demanding model of behaviour for all believers. Forgiveness, in the Church's opinion, does not mean moral relativism or permissiveness. On the contrary, it demands the full recognition of one's sin and the assumption of one's responsibilities as a condition for rediscovering true peace and for confidently resuming the journey to evangelical perfection.

May humanity start out with determination on the way of mercy and forgiveness! Maria Goretti's murderer recognized the sin he had committed. He asked forgiveness of God and of the martyr's family, conscientiously expiated his crime and lived the rest of his life in this spiritual frame of mind.

The saint's mother, for her part, pardoned him on behalf of the family in the hall of the tribunal where his trial was taking place. We do not know whether it was the mother who taught her daughter to forgive or the martyr's forgiveness on her death-bed that determined her mother's conduct. Yet it is certain that the spirit of forgiveness motivated relations within the whole Goretti family, and for this reason could be so naturally expressed by both the martyr and her mother.

5. Those who were acquainted with little Maria said on the day of her funeral: "A saint has died!" The devotion to her has continued to spread on every continent, giving rise to admiration and a thirst for God everywhere. In Maria Goretti shines out the radical choice of the Gospel, unhindered, indeed strengthened by the inevitable sacrifice that faithful adherence to Christ demands.

I am especially holding up this saint as an example to young people who are the hope of the Church and of humanity. As we are now so close to the 17th World Youth Day, I would like to remind young people of what I wrote in the Message I addressed to them in preparation for this longed-for ecclesial event: "In the heart of the night we can feel frightened and insecure, and we impatiently await the coming of the light of dawn. Dear young people, it is up to you to be the watchmen of the morning (cf Is 21, 11-12) who announce the coming of the sun who is the Risen Christ!" (n 3).

Walking in the footsteps of the divine Teacher always means standing up for him and commiting oneself to follow him wherever he goes (cf Ap 14, 4). However, on this path, young people know that they are not alone. St Maria Goretti and the many adolescents who down through centuries paid the price of martyrdom for their allegiance to the Gospel, are beside them, to instil in their hearts the strength to remain firm in fidelity. Thus they will be able to become watchmen of a radiant dawn, illumined by hope. May the Blessed Virgin, Queen of Martyrs, intercede for them!

In raising this prayer, I am united in spirit with everyone who will be taking part in the Jubilee celebrations during this centenary year, and I send a special Apostolic Blessing, the pledge of an abundance of heavenly favours, to you, Venerable Diocesan Bishop, to the worthy Passionist Fathers in charge of the Shrine at Nettuno, to the devotees of St Maria Goretti and especially to the young people.

From the Vatican, 6 July 2002.


Omelia di Papa San Giovanni Paolo II al Santuario di Nettuno
Sabato 1 settembre 1979 - also in Portuguese & Spanish

"Carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle!
In un periodo ancora di relativo riposo e di vacanza, ci troviamo qui, questa sera attorno all’altare del Signore, per celebrare insieme l’Eucaristia, meditando sul fenomeno oggi così importante, del Turismo nella nostra vita umana e cristiana.

Ben volentieri ho accolto l’invito di venire in mezzo a voi, per vedervi, per sentirvi, per portarvi il mio saluto cordiale e manifestarvi il mio affetto, per pregare con voi e riflettere sulle verità supreme, che devono essere sempre luce e ideale della nostra vita.

Su questa piazza di Nettuno davanti alla Chiesa dove riposano le spoglie mortali della giovane martire santa Maria Goretti, in cospetto del mare, simbolo della mutevole e talvolta tumultuosa vicenda umana, ascoltiamo l’insegnamento della “parola di Dio” che sgorga dalle letture della Liturgia.

1. La “parola di Dio” prima di tutto espone l’identità e il comportamento del cristiano. Chi è il cristiano? Come deve comportarsi il cristiano? Quali sono i suoi ideali e le sue preoccupazioni?

Sono domande di sempre, ma diventano tanto più attuali nella nostra società consumistica e permissiva, in cui soprattutto il cristiano può essere tentato di cedere alla mentalità comune, mettendo in secondo piano la sua eletta ed eroica vocazione di messaggero e di testimone della Buona Novella.

L’Apostolo San Giacomo nella sua lettera specifica chiaramente l’identità del cristiano: “Ogni buon regalo e ogni dono perfetto viene dall’alto e discende dal Padre della luce, nel quale non c’è variazione né ombra di cambiamento. Di sua volontà egli ci ha generati con una parola di verità, perché noi fossimo come una primizia delle sue creature” (Gc 1,17-18).

Il cristiano è dunque una creatura del tutto speciale di Dio, perché, mediante la grazia, egli partecipa della stessa vita trinitaria; il cristiano è un dono dell’Altissimo al mondo: egli discende dall’alto, dal Padre della luce!

Non poteva essere meglio descritta la mirabile dignità del cristiano e anche la sua responsabilità!

Il cristiano perciò deve impegnare a fondo la sua volontà e vivere con coerenza la sua vocazione. Dice ancora San Giacomo: “Accogliete con docilità la parola che è stata seminata in voi e che può salvare le vostre anime. Siate di quelli che mettono in pratica la parola e non soltanto ascoltatori, illudendo voi stessi” (Gc 1,21-22).

Sono affermazioni molto serie e severe: il cristiano non deve tradire, non deve illudersi con vane parole, non deve ingannare. La sua missione è estremamente delicata, perché deve essere il lievito nella società, la luce nel mondo, il sale della terra.

Il cristiano si convince ogni giorno di più della difficoltà enorme del suo impegno: egli deve andare contro corrente, deve testimoniare verità assolute ma non visibili, deve perdere la sua vita terrena per guadagnare l’eternità, deve rendersi responsabile anche del prossimo, per illuminarlo, edificarlo, salvarlo. Ma egli sa di non essere solo. Quello che Mosè diceva al popolo ebraico, è immensamente più vero per il popolo cristiano: “Quale grande nazione ha la divinità così vicina a sé, come il Signore nostro Dio è vicino a noi ogni volta che lo invochiamo?” (Dt 4,7). Il cristiano sa che Gesù Cristo, il verbo di Dio, non solo si è incarnato per rivelare la verità salvifica e per redimere l’umanità, ma è rimasto con noi su questa terra rinnovando misticamente il Sacrificio della Croce mediante l’Eucaristia, e diventando cibo spirituale dell’anima e compagno nella strada della vita.

Ecco chi è il cristiano: una primizia delle creature di Dio, che deve mantenere pura e senza macchia la sua fede e la sua vita.

2. La “parola di Dio”, in conseguenza, illumina anche il fenomeno del turismo. Infatti, tutte le realtà umane sono illimitate e interpretate dalla rivelazione di Cristo, che è venuto a salvare tutto l’uomo e tutti gli uomini.

Anche la realtà del turismo deve essere vista alla luce di Cristo. Indubbiamente il turismo è ormai un fenomeno di epoca e di massa: è diventato una mentalità e un costume, perché è un fenomeno “culturale”, causato dall’aumento della conoscenza, del tempo libero e della possibilità di movimento; e un fenomeno “psicologico”, facilmente comprensibile, date le strutture della società moderna: industrializzazione, urbanizzazione, spersonalizzazione, per cui ogni individuo sente il bisogno di distensione, di distrazione, di mutamento, specialmente a contatto con la natura; ed è anche un fenomeno “economico” fonte di benessere.

Però, anche il turismo, come tutte le realtà umane, è un fenomeno ambiguo, e cioè utile e positivo se diretto e controllato dalla ragione e da qualche ideale; negativo se scade a semplice fenomeno di consumismo, a frenesia, ad atteggiamenti alienanti e amorali, con dolorose conseguenze per l’individuo e per la società.

È perciò necessaria anche un’educazione, individuale e collettiva al turismo, perché si mantenga sempre al livello di un valore positivo di formazione della persona umana cioè di giusta e meritata distensione, di elevazione dello spirito, di comunione con il prossimo e con Dio. È perciò necessaria una profonda e convinta educazione umanistica all’accoglienza, al rispetto del prossimo, alla gentilezza, alla comprensione reciproca, alla bontà; è necessaria anche un’educazione ecologica, per il rispetto dell’ambiente e della natura, per il sano e sobrio godimento delle bellezze naturali, tanto riposanti ed esaltanti per l’anima assetata di armonia e di serenità; ed è soprattutto necessaria un’educazione religiosa affinché il turismo non turbi mai le coscienze e non abbassi mai lo spirito, ma anzi lo elevi, lo purifichi, lo innalzi al dialogo con l’Assoluto e alla contemplazione del mistero immenso che ci avvolge e ci attira.

Questa è la concezione del turismo alla luce di Cristo, fenomeno irreversibile e strumento di concordia ed amicizia.

3. Infine, in questo particolare luogo, siamo invitati tutti a guardare alla figura di santa Maria Goretti. Non lontano di qui, il 6 luglio 1902, si compì la tragedia della sua uccisione, e nello stesso tempo anche la gloria della sua santificazione mediante il martirio per la difesa della sua purezza. Ci troviamo presso la Chiesa a lei dedicata, dove riposano le sue spoglie mortali, e dobbiamo fermarci un momento in silenziosa meditazione.

Maria Goretti, adolescente di appena dodici anni, si è mantenuta pura da questo mondo, come scrive San Giacomo, a costo anche della stessa vita; ha preferito morire, piuttosto che offendere Dio.

“No! – disse al suo scatenato uccisore – È peccato! Dio non vuole! Tu vai all’inferno!”.

Purtroppo la sua fede non valse a fermare il tentatore, che poi grazie al suo perdono e alla sua intercessione si pentì e si convertì. Essa cadde martire della sua purezza.

“Fortezza della vergine – disse Pio XII – fortezza della martire, che la giovinezza mette in una luce più viva e radiosa. Fortezza che è a un tempo tutela e frutto della verginità” (Pio XII, Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, IX [1947] 46).

Maria Goretti, luminosa nella sua bellezza spirituale e nella sua già raggiunta eterna felicità, ci invita proprio ad avere fede ferma e sicura nella “parola di Dio”, unica fonte di verità, e ad essere forti contro le insinuanti e avvolgenti tentazioni del mondo. Una cultura volutamente antimetafisica produce logicamente una società agnostica e neopagana, nonostante gli sforzi encomiabili di persone oneste e preoccupate del destino dell’umanità. Il cristiano è posto oggi a una continua lotta, diventa anch’egli “segno di contraddizione” per le scelte che deve operare.

Specialmente esorto voi giovani fanciulle: guardate Maria Goretti! Non lasciatevi sedurre dall’allettante atmosfera creata dalla società permissiva che afferma tutto lecito! Seguite Maria Goretti! Amate, vivete, difendete con gioia e coraggio la vostra purezza. Non temete di portare la vostra limpidezza nella società moderna, come una fiaccola di luce e di ideale!

Con Pio XII vi dirò: “In alto i cuori! Sopra le malsane paludi e il fango del mondo si estende un cielo di bellezza. È il cielo che affascinò la piccola Maria; il cielo a cui ella volle ascendere per l’unica via che ad esso conduce: la religione, l’amore a Cristo, l’eroica osservanza dei suoi comandamenti.

Salve, o soave e amabile Santa! Martire della terra e angelo in cielo, dalla tua gloria volgi lo sguardo su questo popolo che ti ama, che ti venera, che ti glorifica, che ti esalta!” (Pio XII, Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, XII [1950] 122-123).

Fratelli carissimi!
Maria Santissima, tanto amata e pregata da Maria Goretti, specialmente col Santo Rosario, vi aiuti a mantenere sempre viva e fervorosa la vostra identità cristiana, dovunque, in tutte le realtà terrene.

Un ultimo pensiero mi viene qui spontaneo, oggi, primo settembre, anniversario doloroso, che, per la coscienza cristiana e la riflessione umana, ha anche un significato di profondo monito. Quarant’anni fa, il primo settembre 1939, un uragano di fuoco e di distruzione si abbatteva sulla prima Nazione vittima, la Polonia, dando inizio all’incendio sempre più vasto, e sempre più devastatore, della seconda guerra mondiale. Tale ricordo ci deve stimolare alla preghiera per ottenere dalla grazia del Signore che siano esorcizzate le tentazioni ricorrenti tra i popoli, delle tensioni e degli egoismi, i quali sboccano naturalmente in forme di ostilità e di odi poi difficilmente frenabili. Anche Anzio e Nettuno, nella primavera del 1944, furono investite da una tempesta di fuoco che si abbatté, tra cielo e mare, seminando la morte su questa ridente regione; e mentre la terra veniva contesa, palmo a palmo, per alcuni mesi, tra le forze contrapposte, le popolazioni terrorizzate perdevano tante persone care, la propria casa e il frutto della sudata fatica dei campi lavorati.

Preghiamo il Signore per il riposo di tutti quelli che dettero la vita per la libertà e per quelli che, costretti a fronteggiarli, ora riposano accolti nella stessa terra che li vide combattersi fra loro; preghiamo perché Dio preservi noi, e l’umanità intera, dal flagello della guerra, che, se dovesse ritornare, assumerebbe dimensioni di una ancor più terribile apocalisse. La misericordia di Dio doni pace ai morti e alla nostra generazione, ed in particolare ai giovani che si affacciano alla vita, una coraggiosa e convinta adesione a ideali di collaborazione e di pace."