In light of the recent tragic events in Paris, it seemed that there is an intimate necessity for reflecting on the year of Mercy. As we bear witness to the escalating violence occurring in our world, the understanding and power of Mercy are often overlooked. It is from this lack of understanding that I thought mercy might best be examined by a saint that I both greatly admire as well as made a recent visit to touring relics. Her name is Maria Goretti, and the relics of her body that are on tour in the US are for the year of Mercy.
Saint Maria’s life and death stands as a beautiful illustration in this lesson of forgiveness and mercy. Her story shows sorrow, poverty, suffering, death, sadness, beauty and joy conducted by her loving devotion to her faith in Christ. As the world is in desperate need of true love, and mercy it is through her story that we might better encounter a model of Christ’s forgiveness, and the Holy Sprit’s ability to move the souls.
THE STORY OF MARIA GORETTI AND ALESSANDRO SERENELLI
Maria Teresa Goretti was born on October 16, 1890, in the providence of Ancona, in the Kingdom of Italia to her parents Luigi Goretti and Maria Assunta née Carlini. She was the third of seven other children, Teresa, Antonio (died in infancy), Angelo, Maria, Mariano (Marino), Alessandro (Sandrino), and Ersilia. Maria was baptized in the Church of San Fransico not far from the family farm in Corinaldo.
By the time; she was six years old the family had lost their farm and forced to move to Colle Gianturco and lived in the building “La Cascina Antica”.
It was there her father found work for a Count named Mazzoleni. The Count owned a large amount of land and invited him to team up with a Giovanni and his Alessandro son Serenelli. It was a labor intensive job with a typical day working the land lasted for 16 hours. The partnership on the farm thrived and efficiency succeeded for two years. Until tragedy struck the family, her father would come down with malaria and die within a few weeks. His death leaving more than his wife and six children but the entirety of the farm work under the charge of the family.
Consequently, Maria’s mother picked the work that her husband left behind, and Maria along with her siblings were tasked with remaining housework.
The Serenelli’s had a fairly good relationship with the Goretti household. Although Giovanni was a recovering Alcoholic while Maria’s father was alive. Once Luigi passed away, the Goretti’s were not the only ones to fall back on the hard times. Luigi had a increased difficulty with his Alcoholism. Resulting in Alessandro taking up more regularly the heaviest responsibilities on the farm. He would hang around the bars and a vulgar crowd that would lead him to have a disparaging attitude.
It was also during this time that Alessandro who was nineteen years old took an impure liking to Maria. Initially, the flirtation started off as immature and crude comments to her; that would embarrass or frighten her. He enjoyed watching her reactions that led to him finally demanding her to give him her virginity, lest he take her by force. She refused him and ran away.
Despite the reality that threats posed to Maria, she kept quiet. With no father to protect her and her mother struggling. Alessandro had become a constant help to her mother in dealing with many of the difficult tasks on the farm. Maria understood that in telling her mother, her mother would inevitably break ties with the Serenellis and give up the farm, even though the family had nowhere else to go. It was because of this greater threat that for that reason that Maria would press on and avoid being alone with Alessandro.
On July 5, 1902, on the steps of her home, things would take a turn for the worst. At the top of the steps of her home, Maria was sewing a shirt that was Alessandro’s and watching her infant sister Teresa. Alessandro came in from the fields that he was working, went up the stairs and into the house. Only a short time later did he come from the house and placed a sharp dagger-like instument against her throat. Forcing her to go inside the house. He told her that unless she gave up her virginity to him that he would kill her.
She refused and forced him off her, in his anger he then came at her with a blade. He stabbed her six times, three of which went right through her abdomen and the other hitting her spine and bending the blade. It was from those nine wounds she fell unconscious to the floor of her kitchen. Thinking that she had died, Alessandro left her and locked himself in his room. A little bit later she regained her consciousness and dragged herself across the room. As she was attempting to make her way outside to call for help. The unlocking of the hatch within the door alerted Alessandro that he had not finished her off. Thus he came out for the final, fatal blows, stabbing her another four times. Hours had past, by the time she was discovered by Alessandro’s father, she had lost large amount of blood in addition to suffering from a mild fever. The police took Alessandro into custody and Maria to the Hospital.
She was brought to the Hospital in a nearby town. She was very dehydrated and begged the doctors to give her water. They, however, had to refuse her each time as they were attempting to save her life and by giving her water the situation would be dangerous as itcould lead to infection. Her local parish priest came into hospital upon the request, giving her the last rites and spoke with her. He took a crucifix and showed it to Maria and stated, “Maria, Our Lord begged for water as he suffered on the Cross, as you do. Will you offer up your thirst to Jesus for the salvation of souls?”. Maria agreed and not once afterward asked for anything again.
From there the doctor brought her into surgery for the fourteen wounds. Unfortunately for Maria her doctors thought that due to her condition that they received her in, her heart would be too weak to be given any anesthesia. So for the entire operation, Maria was fully conscious as the doctor opened the wounds up larger and sewed them from the inside out. After surgery, it had become clear that there was no way to stop the bleeding or infection and after twenty hours of agonizing pain. Maria had not cried out once; she patiently endured it as an offering to Christ. She died the next day, July 6th, 1902. She asked her mother to forgive Alessandro following her final words “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli and wish for him to be in heaven with me.”
Life after Death
Suffering did not end with Maria Assunta loss of her daughter. There was no one else to look over the help her with the family and farm. Her mother had to give up the farm and family. Which resulted in the following week missing Maria’s funeral to be with her with her children for the last time as she was forced give them up for adoption.
THE TURNING POINT
At his murder trial of Alessandro Serenelli, pleaded his innocence, and claimed that her death was out of self-defense. The judge did not believe him as evidence was overwhelming, and he was convicted. However, due to his age (which at the time he was considered a minor), as well as the plea by Maria’s mother not for the death penalty they reduced the sentence of 30 years instead of life in prison. He went to prison a very angry man with no remorse over the murder of Maria. He blamed Maria for her death with no motivation for penance. As a protective measure for the other inmates his angry and violent behavior was so bad that they were forced to put him in isolation.
It lasted six years into his sentence until one night where his life and despair would change forever. Maria appeared to him in a dream, picking fourteen white lilies. The same amount of times that he had stabbed her. Although there were no words exchanged, he realized that the act was a sign of forgiveness. He was so ashamed and touched by this event that he went to the guard asking for the bishop and confessed his murder of Maria. It was from then on he became a faithful and penitent man. He was even let out early because his behavior and demeanor had changed so drastically that they did something unheard of in those days and allowed him two years out earlier. After 27 years in prison, he set out for Maria Goretti’s house.
Her mother answered the door, and he questioned her. “Do you know who I am Maria?” She replied, “yes, I know who you are.” He then asked, “Do you forgive me?” She answered, “God has forgiven you, Maria has forgiven you, how can I not forgive you.”. And it was from that day on she accepted him as her son. (Sounding remarkably similar to something that Mary the Mother of God would do). December 24, 1942, there on that day they celebrated mass together. Midnight Mass side by side.
Alessandro later became a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and the gardener. As a friar, in fact, many of the children that in the school that had been tutored by him called him uncle Alessandro because of his gentle nature. He even was able to see alongside her mother the canonization of Maria. Lving the rest of his life in penance as a brother until dying peacefully in 1970 at age 87.
Traditionally a canonization of a saint would take place within the walls of Saint Peter’s Basilica. However, the crowds were so large that on the day her canonization they decided to have it take place outside in Saint Peter’s square. No saint in the history of the Church had everbenn canonized outside of the Basilica. However, on 24th of June 1950, Blessed Maria Goretti was declared a Saint of the Church. As well as the first to have her mother witness her canonization.
MY PILGRIMAGE TO HER REMAINS
Three weeks ago, I took a little pilgrimage to the Christi Charismatic Center where the Pilgrimage of Mercy: the US tour of Maris Goretti’s Relics. It was a little pilgrimage for me, there have been many miracles that have been attributed Maria Goretti. My pilgrimage did nothing short but the presence of healing that comes from coming in contact with this saint. So I was in naturally very excited and my pictures shall be shared on the bottom.
There was Mass, and it was in Spanish, so naturally I understood little amount. After that we there was the line to touch the-the “relics”.
The main point in reflecting on my trip, and the journey that Maria undertook that had her declared a saint. Is this, if a young girl (eleven years old) who was unknown to most of the world, could show with a single act of forgiveness to a man that did the significant harm to her could bring even more healing to the world that possess so much pain. Then it might just be possible that forgiveness toward others without reducing the sins of the world could increase more Mercy that the world is in need of. And healing comes from two forms blood and word. The blood and Word is with Christ but if we gladly share it like Maria by being like him, perhaps more people can be transformed like Alessandro. An act of Forgiveness has more power then the act of destruction, it life is in God and it Mercy is with Christ.
"Saint Maria Goretti by Her Mother", compiled by Rev. D. Luigi Novarese, Glasgow: John S. Burns & Sons, (1967) p. 1.
Crusz, Noel. Maria Goretti – Saint Under Siege,July 7, 2002, The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka. Accessed April 11, 2010.
Sister Mary Germaine. "Saint Maria Goretti: Martyr For Purity," St. Maria's Messenger, 2006. Retrieved June 19, 2013.