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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"I dwell with the crushed and the dejected“ (Is 57:15)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month


Saint Maria Goretti
Feast Day - July 6

Maria Goretti (October 16, 1890 – July 6, 1902) is an Italian virgin-martyr of the Roman Catholic Church, and she is one of the youngest canonised saints. Maria was born Maria Teresa Goretti on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Province of Ancona, then in the Kingdom of Italy, to Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini. She was the third of seven children: Antonio (who died in infancy), Angelo, Maria, Mariano (Marino), Alessandro (Sandrino), Ersilia and Teresa.

By the time she was six, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers. So in 1896 or 1897, they moved to Colle Gianturco, near Paliano and Frosinone, about fifty miles outside Rome; and then in 1899 to Le Ferriere, near modern Latina and Nettuno in Lazio, where they lived in a building, "La Cascina Antica," they shared with another family which included Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro. Soon, Maria's father Luigi became very sick with malaria, and died when Maria was just nine. While her brothers, mother, and sister worked in the fields, Maria would cook, sew, watch her infant sister, and keep the house clean. It was a hard life, but the family was very close. They shared a deep love and faith for God.

On July 5, 1902, eleven year-old Maria was sitting on the outside stairs of her home, sewing one of Alessandro's shirts and watching her infant sister Teresa, while Alessandro was threshing beans in the barnyard. Knowing she would be alone, he returned to the house, intending to rape her. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning Alessandro that he would go to hell. Allesandro threatened her with a 10 inch dagger, and when Maria refused, as she had always done, he stabbed her 14 times.She desperately fought to stop Alessandro, a 19-year-old farmhand, from raping her. She kept screaming, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" Alessandro first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. The injured Maria tried to reach for the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.

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.

Halfway through the surgery, Maria woke up. She insisted that it stay that way. The pharmacist of the hospital in which she died said to her, "Maria, think of me in Paradise." She looked at the old man: "Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first?" "You, Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," said Maria. Maria also expressed concern of her mother's welfare. The following day, 24 hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for her murderer and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, Maria died of her injuries, while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary, and clutching a cross to her chest.

A third account of the assault was presented by Italian historian Giordano Bruno Guerri in 1985. He asserted that, while in prison, Alessandro Serenelli stated that he did not complete the assault and Maria died a physical virgin. Guerri identifies the weapon as an awl rather than a dagger.

Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after the attack: the police taking him to prison overtook the ambulance carrying Maria to hospital. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life, but since he was a minor at that time the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison; judges even considered he was not as mature as he was expected to be for a 20-years-old young man, and that he grew up in a poor, neglectful family, with several brothers and relatives suffering of madness and an alcoholic father. It has also been suggested that it was due to her mother’s plea for mercy that he was not sentenced to death. Alessandro insisted he had attempted to rape Maria several times and decided to kill her because of her refusal and desperate crying. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. Serenelli wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, "in which Maria Goretti gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands."

After his release, Alessandro Serenelli 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 canonisation 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 dying peacefully in 1970, aged 87.

On the evening of the beatification ceremonies in Saint Peter's Basilica, April 27, 1947, Pope Pius XII walked over to Assunta. She almost fainted. "When I saw the Pope coming, I prayed, Madonna, please help me. He put his hand on my head and said, blessed mother, happy mother, mother of a Blessed!" They both had eyes wet with tears.

Three years later, on June 24, 1950, Pius XII canonised Goretti as a saint, the "Saint Agnes of the 20th century." Assunta was again present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. She was the first mother ever to attend the canonisation ceremony of her child. Alessandro Serenelli was also present at the canonisation.

Owing to the huge crowd present, the ceremonies associated with the canonisation were held outside of Saint Peter's Basilica, in the Piazza San Pietro. Pius XII spoke, not as before in Latin, but in Italian. "We order and declare, that the blessed Maria Goretti can be venerated as a Saint and We introduce her into the Canon of Saints". Some 500,000 people, among them a majority of youth, had come from around the world. Pius asked them: "Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of grace of God?" A resounding "yes" was the answer.

Maria is the patron saint of chastity, rape victims, girls, youth, teenage girls, poverty, purity and forgiveness. Let her memory make us want to pray for women who have suffered abuse.

 
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