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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."

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 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.

Pope St John Paul II's Message to the Bishop of Albano on the Centenary of the death of Saint Maria Goretti
- in English, 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. From such a perspective, the person discovers himself to be the recipient of a gift and 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 Apoc 14,4). However, on this path, young people know that they are not alone. St Maria Goretti and the many adolescents who down through the 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