St. Maria Goretti

            Maria was a beautiful girl, one of seven children in a family that struggled to have even the basics.  She and her family were strong Catholics attending Church regularly and trying to follow the commandments. They all worked hard but they just couldn’t make ends meet. When Maria was ten years old, she received her first communion and prayed regularly. Her father led the family rosary every night. Her mother was also a woman of prayer. Tragedy struck Maria’s family when her father died of malaria. Now her home life was turned upside down. A middle-aged man, John, and his son, Allessandro, moved into her home to share expenses. John made Maria’s mother work in the fields while Maria did all the household chores. Allessandro, seven years older than Maria, had a collection of pornography and started to pester Maria. Even though she was only twelve years old, she realized what he was after. She would push him away, tell him to leave her alone, and tried not to be alone with him. One day Allessandro saw his chance. While his father was sleeping in another room and Maria’s mother was working in the fields, he grabbed Maria and tried to rape her, but she pushed him away. He was mad and frustrated so he stabbed her fourteen times and left her to die. When Allessandro’s father found her bleeding to death, he contacted Maria’s mother, and called for an ambulance. The doctors tried to save her but she had been stabbed horribly. Even so, as she was dying she forgave her attacker, asked God’s forgiveness of him, and died holding a crucifix and a medal of Our Lady.

The story does not end here. Allessandro was sentenced to prison for thirty years. He avoided the death penalty by pleading insanity and pointing out that he was a minor at the time of the stabbing. In prison he at first told visitors how Maria had encouraged his advances. But six years after murdering Maria, she appeared to him in a dream or vision. His prison cell was transformed into a beautiful garden filled with fragrant flowers. A figure in white was gathering lilies. She turned to him, and he shouted out: “Maria, Maria!” Then she came to him carrying an armful of lilies. She handed him one lily at a time to him, fourteen in all, representing each stab wound which he had made. Then she repeated her dying wish that one day his soul would reach her in Heaven.

From that time on Allessandro became a model prisoner and told the truth about his attack on Maria. He testified that she was entirely innocent and died trying to protect her innocence even telling him that he could lose his own soul if he attacked her. When he was released from prison he worked as a gardener in a monastery. Later he visited Maria’s mother and asked her forgiveness. She forgave him and knelt side by side with him to receive communion at a Christmas Mass.

In 1950 Maria Goretti was canonized a Saint by Pope Pius XII. She is the youngest of all the canonized saints. The ceremony was witnessed by 250,000 including her mother, the only time a parent has witnessed her child’s canonization.