A young saint who forgave a horrific crime
Saint Maria Goretti (1890-1902) is known for heroically forgiving a 20-year-old man who attempted to rape her before he brutally stabbed her multiple times at the young age of 11.
She is one of the youngest saints to be canonised in the Catholic Church. Maria was canonised by Pope Pius XII on June 24, 1950 but her feast day in the Church is celebrated on July 6.
Maria was born and raised into a poor family of farmers with 5 siblings. Her father, Luigi Goretti, tragically died when she was 9 years old, forcing her and her family to move in with another family to make ends meet.
Alessandro Serenelli – the 20-year-old son of the family the Goretti’s lived with – developed a disordered attraction towards Maria. He came home early from work one day, knowing that Maria would be home alone, while caring for her baby sister.
He made sexual advances towards her twice. As Maria strongly rejected his efforts, he held up a knife and threatened her to submit to him. She refused again and he tried to choke her. Maria was stabbed 11 times and dragged herself helplessly towards the door. She was stabbed another 6 times.
Maria’s mother and Alessandro’s father came to check on the crying baby and found Maria in the shocking state. Before she died, she expressed that she had forgiven Alessandro for his horrific crime. Her words were: ‘’I forgive Alessandro Serenelli and I want him with me in heaven forever.’’
The miraculous conversion of a sinner
Alessandro was jailed for 30 years and refused to repent during the first 3. He claimed that Maria appeared to him in a dream during his time in prison, which led him to undergo a miraculous conversion for his remaining years behind bars. The young man apologised to Maria’s mother for what he had done after he was released from prison. He prayed for Maria’s intercession each day convinced that she was in heaven and referred to her as his ‘’little saint’’.
Alessandro attended Maria’s canonisation and joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin as a Franciscan lay brother. In an open letter dated May 5, 1961, he admitted he had ‘’committed a crime of passion’’ and that his behaviour was ‘’influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples’’.
‘’Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself,’’ Alessandro penned.
‘’Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The brothers of St Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant…
‘’I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path…’’
He died on May 6th, 1970 in the Capuchin convent of Macerata.
A reflection on sin and God’s infinite mercy
St Maria Goretti’s moving story is a reminder that the Catholic Church is not a ‘’museum of saints but a hospital for sinners’’.
Alessandro’s crime against Maria was abominable to say the least. She still forgave him, which is a heroic mercy that imitates the heart of Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of all mankind.
This young saint’s feast day is an opportunity for us to reflect on the beautiful reality that God will forgive any of our wrongdoing if we are sorry, no matter how many times we have offended Him in big things and in the small.
Pope Francis said: “The Lord never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.’’