Today, July 6, we celebrate the feast of *St. Maria Goretti*, a young virgin and martyr whose life is an example of purity and mercy for all Christians.
Maria Goretti is best known for her commitment to purity and the courageous defence of her faith at the young age of eleven that made her willing to undergo death rather than participate in a sin against God. She is also remarkable for the forgiveness she willingly granted her attacker as she lay on her deathbed.
Maria was born in Corinaldo, Italy on October 16, 1890. Her father died when she was young, and her mother had to work to support their six children.
Maria took care of the younger children while her mother worked, and she prayed the Rosary every night for the repose of her father’s soul. She grew in grace and maturity, and her cheerful obedience and piety were noticed by those around her.
On July 5, 1902, a neighbouring farm hand, Alessandro Serenelli, tried to rape Maria. On several prior occasions, Alessandro had harassed Maria with impure advances, all of which she has vehemently rejected. This time, he locked her in a room and tried to force himself upon her.
When Maria declared that she would rather die than submit to this sin, Alessandro angrily grabbed her and stabbed her 14 times with a knife.
Maria was found bleeding to death and rushed to the hospital. As she lay dying, she forgave Alessandro for the crime he had committed against her, saying, “Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him…and I want him to be with me in Paradise.” Although the doctors tried to save her, the following day, Maria died of her injuries.
Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant until one night, eight years into his prison term, when Maria appeared to him, dressed in white, gathering lilies in a garden. She smiled, turned towards Alessandro, and offered him the flowers. Each lily he took transformed into a white flame. Then Maria disappeared. He was one of the witnesses who testified to Maria’s holiness during her cause of beatification, citing the crime and the vision in prison.
In 1950, she was canonized by Pope Pius XII, becoming the youngest Roman Catholic saint officially recognized by name. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s.
Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy. She is the patron saint of purity, rape victims, young women, and youth in general.
*St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.*