ST. MARIA GORETTI
One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization —250,000 — symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the story of Maria Goretti. She was the daughter of a poor Italian farmer, had no chance to go to school and never learned to read or write. Her father died early in her life and left her mother to feed all of their children.
On July 5th, 1902 at the age of 11, Maria was sitting on the steps of her home sewing a shirt for her brother. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, 18-year-old Alessandro, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it,” she cried out. “It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.”
At her words, Alessandro began to choke her and Maria said she would rather die than submit. Upon hearing her refusal, he stabbed her with a stitching awl 11 times. When she tried to make her way to the door he stabbed her 3 more times and then fled.
Maria's family returned home to find her bleeding on the floor. She was rushed to the hospital where they performed surgery without anesthesia but her wounds were beyond repair. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good — concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer, and her devout welcoming of her last Holy Communion. She died 24 hours after the attack while looking at an image of the Virgin Mary and holding a cross to her chest.
Alessandro was captured and questioned where he admitted he was not successful in raping Maria and she died a virgin. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother.
Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were abundant, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her 82-year-old mother, two sisters and a brother, appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later at Maria’s canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy. He later became a laybrother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, where he lived in a monastery and worked until his death.