On July 6 we commemorate the Feast of St. Maria Goretti, one of the youngest canonized saints in the Catholic Church’s history. She was 11 years old at the time of her death.
In March 2015, Pope Francis proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy. The sacred relics of St. Maria Goretti toured the U.S. as a sign of the true meaning of mercy. From the moment she forgave her attacker she has been known as the patron saint of mercy.
“Pardoning offenses becomes the clearest expressions of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. At times how hard it seems to forgive! Yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of the heart.” — Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus
The story of Maria Goretti is not a complicated one. It is the story of a simple, uneducated young girl who gave of herself to Jesus all eleven years of her life.
She was from a poor farming family. She lost her father at nine years of age from malaria. Her family was forced to live with another family to help make ends meet. Alessandro Serenelli was one of the children from the other family. He repeatedly made sexual advances at Maria and she refused. On July 5 she was caring for her infant sister and cleaning their farmhouse when Alessandro, realizing she was alone, threatened her with a 10-inch dagger and tried to force himself on her. She once again refused and said she would rather die than lose her virginity to him. He stabbed her 14 times. The wounds penetrated her throat, pericardium, heart, lungs and diaphragm. Surgeons were amazed that she was still alive.
In her deposition to police she identified Alessandro Serenelli as her attacker and said he had attempted to do this before. She died the next day. Her last words were “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli… and I want him with me in paradise forever.”
Pope Pius XII canonized Maria on June 24, 1950, with her mother and some of her siblings present. Her story was not only one of suffering at the hands of an attacker—it is one of forgiveness and desire for the salvation of a soul.
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