Maria Goretti is an evergreen martyr of this age. There are a lot of adjectives to describe her. She was one of the saints who accepted death rather than commit a sin. When children of her age in these days go after all the attractions the world offers, Maria at the age of 11 was able to build a life of holiness around her. Maria is one of the strongest testimonies of recent times.
Maria Teresa Goretti was born on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Province of Ancona, then in the Kingdom of Italy, to Luigi Goretti and Assunta née Carlini, the third of seven children. That time no one knew that her birth date will find a mark in the history. By the time Maria was five, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers. In 1896, 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, her father became very sick with malaria, and died when she was just nine. Even though they knew the Serenelli family was not a good influence and was not a good neighbor, their poor circumstances forced them to live together. Goretti’s family was God fearing and strived to lead a life of holiness while the Serenelli family was moving towards a life of faithlessness. These two families are not different from the families we see in today’s age. Maria Goretti’s family never missed the daily Mass and their family prayers in the evenings. So it is not surprising that Maria was ready to die rather than commit a sin. Alessandro grew up in an environment who grew up seeing his father verbally abusing after getting drunk and it was not surprising that he would behave like an animal with no conscience.
The Goretti – Serenelli families are a great example for us. One family shows us how to lead a holy life pleasing to God and the other how not to lead a sinful life. Maria chose death rather than fall prey to Alessandro’s sinful plan. Maria having expressed forgiveness for Alessandro and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, died of her injuries 24 hours after she was assaulted by Alessandro. She was taken from this earth and planted in the garden of Heavens and she continues to bestow her blessings to all generations.
The path of holiness leads to salvation and it was Jesus who paved the way for this when he out of his unfathomable love for the humankind came down to earth and gave his life for our salvation. Bishop Monsignor Giovanni Blandini was called to visit Alessandro in Jail. Alessandro who until then had not repented for his sin after the visit and a vision from Maria Goretti repented. After spending 27 years in the jail he came out of the jail, repentant and washed pure from his sin like a lamb. After his release, Alessandro visited Assunta and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her death bed then she could not do less. They attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Maria’s mother received an opportunity that nobody had in the 2000 years in the Catholic Church. She bore witness to the canonization of her daughter to sainthood. On June 24th 1950, Pius XII canonized Maria as a saint, the “Saint Agnes of the 20th century.
History has a lot to say to us. Pope Pius XII on the day of her canonization asked the multitude the question, “Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of the grace of God?” let us ask ourselves this very question and let our response always be like Maria Goretti said on that day, “Yes.” If yes is our response, then Maria Goretti lives even today as a blessing in us, through us.
Fr Antony Parakkadavil