Little Maria Goretti died at the tender age of eleven, but the many virtues she displayed in her short life and violent death give a powerful witness to all who venerate her.
Marietta, as she was affectionately known, came from a pious and loving family. Her parents sought to support their children by partnering with the Serenelli father and son as tenant farmers. In their shared home, Maria looked upon Alessandro, the teenage son of Signor Serenelli, as an older brother. Marietta was known by all as a cheerful and charitable young girl, wiser and more holy than would be expected due to her youth. She was deeply prayerful, obedient and pure. When Marietta was just ten, her father fell ill and suffered for ten days until he died. Marietta took over her mother’s duties during this time and afterwards, when Assunta had to take the place of her husband Luigi in the fields. She was always eager to give to others, taking little for herself and caring without complaint for her little brothers and sisters to lighten her mother’s load. She helped to teach them their prayers and Bible stories.
Maria longed to receive Holy Communion. Assunta cautioned her that she might have to wait since Maria was not able to read to prepare properly and they did not have the money to see to her clothing for such an important occasion. Cheerfully and faithfully, Marietta assured her mother that God would provide. She found someone to teach her so that she would be prepared for the reception of the Sacrament. Neighborhood friends gifted her with some special items such as new shoes, a veil and a candle. Marietta went to each of the household members and begged pardon for any offenses she may have committed against them. She received her First Holy Communion less than six weeks before her death.
Alessandro began to look upon Marietta as a beautiful girl and he made attempts to be alone with her in the house and to touch her. Marietta’s purity was irreproachable so that she felt deeply the wrongness of these approaches and attempted to avoid Alessandro. On July 5, 1902, Alessandro orchestrated a situation that put Marietta in his control. He readied a knife and a handkerchief with which he planned to gag her. Marietta cried out against his plan “…Do not touch me! It is a sin – you will go to Hell!” more concerned for his soul than for her safety! Alessandro found he could not touch her and instead he stabbed her repeatedly; at least fourteen wounds were treated at the hospital. She remained conscious and uncomplaining. Before she died she assured the priest that she had forgiven Alessandro and prayed for God to forgive him and that he would one day be with her in Paradise.
A model of purity, Maria is also a witness for ready forgiveness. Alessandro remained unrepentant for eight years, but then Maria appeared to him in a dream, presenting him with fourteen lilies, representing the wounds and her own forgiveness. He begged pardon for his sin, amended his life, and ultimately was present, along with Maria’s mother, at the canonization of Maria Goretti, whose feast we now celebrate on July 6. Let us pray to Maria Goretti for our children, for purity, for faithfulness in our duties, for a burning love for the Eucharist and for ready forgiveness of those who oppose us; these are just some of the virtues Maria lived.
July 5, 2015