Saint Maria Goretti
The little White and Crimson Rose of Jesus
The name of Maria Goretti has a special place for me. I would judge that most everyone in my generation has grown up having heard the story of the little crimson and white Rose of Jesus, St. Maria Goretti. Her story inspires such emotions in us, such a desire to bring ourselves to Jesus and His Mother Mary as pure buds, ready to flower into whatever vocation They desire for us, whether it be religious, lay people or as in the case of little Maria, Saints who gave their lives as martyrs rather than stain their immortal souls by committing a sin. And in that way, Saints like Maria Goretti become role models for young people in these modern times.
We know the story of Maria Goretti with surface knowledge. She is famous for what she obviously did, die rather than allow her relationship with Jesus to be compromised by giving into a sexual temptation. This is the obvious cause for her Sainthood, much as St. Maxmilian Kolbe’s obvious reasoning for Sainthood was taking the place of a fellow prisoner in the death cells of Auschwitz during the Second World War. But these are only the apparent. There is so much more to each life which calls for us to venerate them as special servants of God, true role models. We have written about St. Maxmilian Kolbe in two different books, trying to tell the story of this powerful man in the Church.
There were two other virtues of St. Maria Goretti which are so subtle, they get lost in the shadow of giving her life. One of them was selflessness. She cared more about her eternal soul than her bodily safety. And possibly even more than that, she cared about the soul of her attacker more than her own life. As we get into the woeful story of her life and death, we can’t help but realize that in Corinaldo, Italy. On October 16, 1890, she was born here of Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini.
Maria Goretti was a good little girl, a pure little girl. At eleven years old, she had such a love relationship with Jesus that she would rather die than allow her chastity to be compromised, rather die than take a chance on breaking relationship with Jesus. But how can that be? How could she possibly understand what path her Yes to Jesus would take her down? We’re not talking about St. Agnes or St. Cecilia or Saints of the early Church who gave up their lives for Jesus. This is the Twentieth Century. She is a product of this century. Where have we gone, how low have we become, that our young people can’t possibly understand how a girl from their own century could sacrifice her life for her morals?
Girls as young as eleven, are “sexually active,” have become pregnant, have had abortions often with help of their own mothers, in many instances, and those who did not die on the abortionist’s table, have died of AIDS in many instances. We’re at a time in our society when there are virtually no morals being taught or practiced either in the classrooms of our schools, in the pulpits of our churches, or in the homes by the parents of these children. Our schools are giving children condoms and parents are putting girls on the birth control pill. We’re being taught safe sex in an effort to avoid the spread of dangerous diseases and to keep the world population down. Last on the list of priorities is the prevention of the spread of moral decay of a civilization, which in its final analysis will be much more deadly than any physical disease our children may contract.
Maria Goretti is definitely a contradiction in terms. She is surely a paradox. She could not possibly exist in this, the last decade of the Twentieth Century, the end of the second millennium, and yet she is a product of our century. Either she is completely out of sync, or we are condemned for the apathy we portray to our children by our behavior. Either Maria Goretti is wrong or we’re wrong. Is it possible that we could be wrong?
But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. To begin at the beginning of this short, but brilliant life in the Lord, we have to go to the far north and east of Italy, to the Marches, the harsh area around Ancona and the Adriatic Sea. For those of us who visit the Holy House of Loreto, it seems a most pleasant place to be. The month we usually choose, July, is not yet hot. The warm breezes off the Adriatic make it a most desirable time to visit our Lady of
the Holy House there. But that's July in Loreto. Not too far away in Corinaldo, where our little Saint was born, things are not quite the same. The winters are brutal. The howling winds coming off the Adriatic Sea pound against the rock-hard land, making it next to impossible to do any work on the farms.
If this is not enough, the Spring and Fall bring hard rain and flooding, ruining any small amount of crops which could be planted. No matter how hard the farmers tried, this was not a good place to make a living. For the parents of Maria Goretti, Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini, it was home. They had lived here all their lives, as had their parents before them and their parents before them. But that didn't make their lives any more bearable. It was just consistent.
And this is where our little Saint was born on October 16, 1890. She was the second living child of the Goretti family, the first boy having died as an infant. She had an older brother, Angelo, and would have more brothers and sisters as time went on. When we wrote of the Little Flower of Lisieux, St. Thérèse, we said Saints beget Saints. Maria's mother in particular, Assunta, was a saintly woman. She had no formal education, but she was taught powerfully by her Church and given, we believe, infused knowledge by the Holy Spirit. This love for God and her Church was passed on to her children, especially little Maria. She was baptized the day after her birth. Assunta did not want to have her child carry the stain of Original Sin any longer than necessary.
Under the tutelage of Assunta and Luigi, Maria grew up a very selfless, giving girl. She cared more about pleasing others than for her own comfort. Little things had great meaning to Maria. Perhaps because the family had always been and would always be financially very poor, she had no great need for possessions. They were not available to the family; Maria didn't think about them. Instead, she tried to do whatever she could to make her family's life more pleasant. She was a very normal girl, enjoying games and running through the fields. But her mother noted a strong spirituality in her from an early age. It never left her; it just became more intense.
Little Maria and her family lived a happy life in Corinaldo, but they were always on the edge. The land was too small and difficult to farm. Luigi did the best he could, but it was not good enough. He insisted that he could not take care of his family in the proper manner under these conditions. He argued they would have a better chance in some far-off land, perhaps the big city, Rome. The grass was always greener somewhere else. Besides, anything was better than they had. Assunta, on the other hand, was determined to not leave the place of her birth and that of her children, especially for a decadent place like Rome. But Luigi was resolved to give his family a better life. To make his case stronger, their very close friends and neighbors, Domenico and his sister Teresa Cimarelli, were planning to leave also. This gave Luigi courage to convince Assunta that they and their children should leave Corinaldo and head towards Rome.
The lure of the big city always attracted the people from the farms. But it had not helped those who left in most instances. Although there was work, very often there was no life. The wages were just above slave labor; the living conditions were impossible; the whole family had to work in different factories. The work of St. Don Bosco in the slums of Torino in the last fifty years of the Nineteenth Century had been proof positive that there were no streets lined with gold in the big cities, only heartbreak and very often the breakup of families.
But Luigi had his way. Had he allowed himself to be more influenced by Assunta and less by his neighbors, things might not have turned out the way they did, for him, his daughter Maria, Assunta and the whole family. They headed for Rome, carrying all their life's possessions in a little cart. They traveled in a caravan with their neighbors, two little carts carrying two families in search of their dreams. It took a number of weeks to get to Rome. They had much time to think about the path they were taking. The prospect of a new adventure filled them with excitement of how it was going to be. That is, until they finally reached Rome.
It was a complete disaster, worse than anything they had ever imagined, either in Corinaldo or on their trip. They were completely lost. The city was huge, overpowering. They were swallowed up in its decadence. They looked for something familiar, to which they could relate. There was nothing. They were very depressed and disappointed. Searching for something, anything, they latched onto another pipe dream, tales of beautiful farming country in an area called Nettuno, between Rome and Naples, near the Atlantic Ocean. It sounded magnificent; there was the possibility of share-cropping, which meant that the workers would farm the owner's land, and share in the profits after all expenses had been taken out. It could work, but it would be difficult. However, with a strong man like Luigi, who had a great need to make things better for his wife and his family, the challenge was right up his alley. So they left the crowded city of Rome and headed south towards Ferriere, a small village near Nettuno.
As rocky and hard as the land of Corinaldo was, the Pontine Marshes, the farm which the Gorettis and the Cimarellis worked was wet and murky and swampy. They were far from home. This was not at all what they had envisioned. The swamps were filled with malaria germs; but they hadn't known that. What they did discover was that nothing around them lived, no trees, no animals, no living thing. But they had to make a go of it. As a positive, they did have wide stretches of land on which they could plant, rather than terrace farm, which they had to do in Corinaldo.
It was indeed a challenge for the family. The farm and houses had been abandoned for three years. They had to put it back together and get a crop planted. Their home was above a dairy farm, thus the nickname it had been given by the local people, the cheese factory. Assunta and the children worked on making the house livable while Luigi worked the fields, digging ditches for irrigation. Although Luigi prayed hard while he worked, and we are sure he had the help of the Angels, he took on more than he could handle. He would not hire help, because he had no money to pay them, although he could have offered them part of the crop. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he was probably so much in debt, he felt with this first crop he would be able to pay off most his debts. However, he didn’t consider that the very air he breathed was poison, and the water he drank was contaminated. He worked himself too hard. In short order, he became very sick. This caused a decision to be made, which proved disastrous for the family, and ultimately fatal for Maria.
At the very time Luigi became too ill to work and had to be confined to bed, the owner of the property, Count Mazzoleni came to inspect his land. He saw Luigi in bed sick, and the crops laying in the field going bad, not gathered in the barn as the Cimarellis had done. He took matters into his own hands, and hired a man, Giovanni Serenelli and his son to work as partners with Luigi, to bring in the crop. So the very thing that Luigi wanted to avoid was thrust upon him. Control was taken out of Luigi’s hands, and in addition the family was exposed to strangers living with them, which Assunta probably would never have allowed in their home. Little did they know, when this was done that the son of the man who became his partner was Alessandro Serenelli, the young man who would be the murderer of Maria Goretti.
Things seemed to work out reasonable well, at least that first season. Luigi tried as much as he could to work side-by-side with the other two. Alessandro was a strapping youth of eighteen, with a great deal of strength. He did much work and spent most of his off-time in his room, reading, as it was learned later, books about violence and war, rape and lust; just the things Assunta did not want her children to be exposed to. But nobody knew this until it was too late, and the situation was forced upon them because Luigi was so sick.
During this first three years at the farm, Maria adjusted beautifully, as Assunta predicted she would. She became mother’s helper in every way she could. She was always good, according to her neighbors. She was always neat and clean, but never vain. The children of that area were all poor, so she had no problem keeping up with the Joneses.
As soon as she became old enough, her mother gave Maria the chore of going into Nettuno to do the shopping for the family. This was how Maria became well-known to the local villagers. Everyone loved Maria, whom they affectionately called Marietta, or little Maria. After her death, many of the local townspeople recalled various good things about Maria which they had noted. She was always very polite and friendly. She never tarried, but took care of her errands and returned home to help her mother. She was adorable, and many of the storekeepers would give her little treats. They noticed however, that she never ate these little goodies in their sight, but put them in her pockets. When questioned, she would say that this cookie was for her sister, and this sweet for her brother. She always considered others, more than herself. Even on the day of her death, she was more concerned about her attacker’s soul, than her own well-being.
Luigi’s health went steadily downhill, to the point where he could not even go out with the other two to work. He contracted the diseases which were prevalent in the area, malaria and meningitis. Towards the end of April, 1900, Luigi took to his bed for the last time. His condition deteriorated drastically, so badly that they called the priest to give him the Last Sacraments of the Church. He was not aware at first that he was dying. Every time he came out of his coma to find the family and neighbors praying over him, he was shocked. But towards the very end, he whispered to Assunta, “Go back to Corinaldo....Assunta, go back...to Corinaldo.” And then he died.
Luigi was able to sense trouble before he died. Perhaps the Lord had given him special Graces to warn his dear wife of the impending danger to the family, there at the Pontine Marshes. Nothing good had come of their move. He had been wrong, and was paying for it with his life. Did he know, at that moment of death, the evil which threatened his beloved daughter? Was that why he was trying to warn Assunta to return with the family to Corinaldo?
Whatever the case, Assunta felt it was impossible to return to Corinaldo. The oldest child was only thirteen, not old enough to take on the role of a man. They had nothing to get them to Corinaldo, and nothing waiting for them there except the community they had left. For some reason, they were never able to get out of debt. She had hoped that they would be able to build a little nest egg, which would finance them back to Corinaldo. But it didn’t happen. There was some talk about Giovanni Serenelli hoarding some of the crops which he sold on the side, and keeping the profits. Luigi had suspected it, but could inever substantiate it.
Assunta felt the best thing for the time, was to relieve Luigi and continue working in the fields, and pray the Lord deliver her and the children from this life, which she had never wanted. She knew she was in a bad situation; she just wanted to get out. She had to take Luigi’s place in the fields, in order to maintain the partnership. Otherwise, everything would have gone to Giovanni and Alessandro, and Assunta and the children would have become servants for their room and board. She did not complain, but became uneasy that she had to leave her girls alone at home when she and her son Angelo went out into the field. Maria was around eleven at this time, and stayed in the home to care for the youngest daughter, Theresa. So the mother Assunta took on the role of the father, and the daughter, Maria, took on the role of the mother.
Maria had always been a happy girl, a selfless girl. We are hard-pressed to find any accounts of Maria being even the slightest bit naughty. You have to remember that the people of the local villages surrounding Ferriere and Nettuno knew Maria from the time she was six years old when the family first arrived in 1896. Maria had always been her mother's right hand, helping in every way possible. She would go into the village to shop for the family. She would speak to the neighbors on the way in and on the way back. Any little act of kindness she could perform, she immediately did. Everybody knew her and loved her. They would do anything for her.
A great example of this would be, when she wanted to receive her First Holy Communion. If she had a passion in her life, it was to be as close to Our Lord Jesus as humanly possible; and she knew the only way she could do that was by receiving His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion. In those days, the normal age for a person to receive First Holy Communion was twelve. But Maria, at age eleven, pressed her mother to allow her to take instructions. Now you have to realize that Maria could neither read nor write; she had no formal education. All she knew about God was what her saintly mother Assunta had taught her, and what the priests had taught in church.
There were many obstacles to her receiving First Holy Communion, the least of which was she had no training. But Maria had found a woman in Conca, a few miles distant, who would teach her. She promised Assunta she would get all her chores finished and then walk the miles to and from the home of the lady who would help her.
Assunta tried to explain that there was more to it than that. She couldn't have a white dress or slippers. None of the outer accouterments were available to this extremely poor family. Maria didn't care a bit about those things; she just wanted to receive the Lord. She wasn't concerned about how she looked. She had never had a white dress and slippers. Why should that be an obstacle?
So Assunta helped as much as possible. Sometimes she would bring Maria to Conca for her lessons. Other times she brought her to Nettuno to the Passionist priests so she could learn the Catechism and make her first confession. In addition, there was a priest who came through to Conca preparing the children for First Holy Communion. For eleven months, Maria, with the help of her mother, and all God’s Angels, in the form of priests and well-intentioned instructors learned what she needed for that special time with Our Lord Jesus.
As the time drew closer, Assunta had misgivings. How prepared was Maria? She asked the local priest to make the decision. After speaking to Maria, the priest said to Assunta, “Be at ease, good mother. Your daughter is very well prepared. Put away all your vain fears and confide her to Mary Immaculate. Place her
In Padre Pio’s life, we learn of his first teachers being good men in Pietrelcina, whose major qualifications were that they knew how to read.under the Virgin’s protective mantle and have no fear.”
Now as the special event was upon them, Assunta’s fears went back to how her little girl would be dressed for First Holy Communion. Her fears were unfounded! When the time came for her to receive, it was like the gift of the Magi. Assunta dressed Maria in a red dress. Neighbors came forward and supplied slippers, a veil and a crown of flowers. Assunta allowed her to wear her earrings to complement the outfit.
The day she received her First Holy Communion was the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Maria was full of anticipation. She did a beautiful but unusual thing. Before she left for the church, she went to every member of her family, including Giovanni and Alessandro Serenelli, and asked forgiveness for anything she may have ever done to offend them. She did the same with the neighbors.
Where did she receive this special Grace? We believe she had a special relationship with Jesus and His Mother Mary that we’ll never know about. We believe when she went to the church that day, the whole Heavenly Family, including all the Angels and the Saints, were there with her.
None of her biographers make mention of the effect that “first kiss of Jesus” had on Maria. But we have to believe that the feelings described by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who had died just a few years before Maria received her First Holy Communion, would apply here. St. Thérèse wrote:
“At last the day came, that greatest of days for me; even the tiniest details of that visit to Heaven have left their imprint on my memory, not to be described.
“What comfort it brought to me, that first kiss Our Lord imprinted on my soul! A Lover’s kiss; I knew that I was loved, and I, in return, told Him that I loved Him, and was giving myself to Him for all eternity.
“And now....something had melted away, and there were no longer two of us - Thérèse had simply disappeared, like a drop lost in the ocean; Jesus only was left, my Master, my King.”
The only hint we have of the profound impact this encounter with her God had on Maria, was that when all the other children ran into the sacristy after Mass to thank the priest, Maria remained behind in the church, lost in the embrace of Jesus, Mary, the Angels and the Saints. We’re told that the only sad part of this momentous occasion was how much she missed her father. We have to think that he was there, embracing his daughter with the entire assemblage from Heaven.
Just to recap, when Maria began instructions for First Holy Communion, she had not yet reached eleven years old. But she felt an urgency to go through the preparation stages so that she would be able to receive Our Lord when she did. Did the Lord give her infused knowledge that she would need His strength in the Eucharist for the days ahead? This need she felt to begin her lessons was manifested, right after her father’s death. Did Our Lord allow Luigi to come to his daughter and whisper in her ear the importance of doing it right away? Did he warn her she would need this strength when the fatal day came, less than six weeks later?
When her father died, Maria threw herself into the work of supporting her mother. She knew how she was needed, and that there was no time for the luxury of mourning her dear father, whom she loved with all her heart. So she did what she had to do. But we wonder if her pillow wasn’t wet each evening with the tears she shed for the loss of such an important person in her life.
She carried out her duties without complaint and with great cheerfulness. But those who knew her claimed that her eyes had lost their luster. She was never the same after the death of her father. It was as if part of her life were taken from her and she would never be the same.
Maria’s problems with Alessandro did not just begin after she received her First Holy Communion. To the contrary, she could feel the lustful burning of his eyes on her from the time the Serenellis first moved into the house. The question that came up so many times after the fact was why didn’t she tell someone when it first began? The answer is that the Gorettis were in a no-win situation. Had Maria said anything to anyone, to her mother or to Alessandro’s father, it would just have made their situation that much worse. Even if she were believed, it would have created insurmountable problems. And so she remained silent.
During the cause for her Canonization, this question came up again and again. Why did she not tell someone? It was hard for anyone to completely understand how selfless this child was, how she always thought of everyone else before she ever considered herself. This was just another of those instances. Only it would prove to be fatal.
The Final Scenario
We will speak later of Alessandro Serenelli, his life, his problems and his conversion. For this chapter, we want to concentrate on our little Saint and go through the events leading up to July 5, 1902, the day Maria Goretti was brutally murdered.
As Maria advanced in years, she began developing into a beautiful young lady. In addition, the inner beauty which could be seen by everyone who encountered her was blinding. Add to that the fact that she was obviously taken by Jesus. She was the flawless child of Jesus, and that made her even more desirable. Anyone who is unattainable is most desirable. This was the case with Alessandro Serenelli. He had made advances to her, which she was able to ward off. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone what he was doing. She was very uncomfortable with him, but felt she could handle the situation. However, it began seriously getting out of hand at this time.
Under normal conditions, Alessandro worked out in the field and Maria stayed at the house, taking care of her infant sister and preparing meals for the family. However, whenever he could, he managed to get back to the house where he would attempt to make her engage in sexual activities with him. She had been able to control Alessandro.
Then one day Assunta did not feel well. She asked Maria to take her place out in the field. Maria jumped at the chance to get out of the house and work in the field. She forgot to consider, however, that Alessandro would be there. While they were working in one section side by side, he came over and grabbed her arm. He was angry. His eyes were crazy. He was talking what she conceived as gibberish. Finally, she understood what he wanted, to have sex with her. She summoned all her strength, broke loose from him, and ran into the fields, hiding behind a large hedge. She stayed frozen to the spot until lunch time, when she went with the others into the house. He kept giving her that look that warned her not to say a word, or he would kill her.
After lunch, when they all went back into the fields, she hid out in the barn for hours. A real sense of panic entered into her heart. She, who had never been afraid of anything, became frightened whenever she was near him, or whenever she was alone. Her beautiful eyes were dead. The special smile which lit up a room, was no more. She was in a constant state of panic. She looked for ways to avoid him during the following week. He looked for ways to be close to her, alone with her.
Saturday, July 5, 1902- It was a very hot day in the Marshes. Back home in Corinaldo, Maria could just envision the coolness coming off the mountains and the Adriatic Sea. But here, mugginess prevailed. Everyone was tired. It had been a long week. Today was just like any other workday. Only now, Maria was working back in the house, taking care of her sister, preparing the meals and the like. After lunch, everyone went out into the fields. Maria was mending a shirt Alessandro had given her. She was at the top of the landing outside the house, praying for a gentle breeze to relieve the heat.
Alessandro had been working a plan in his mind. He was ready to put it into effect. He told Assunta he had to go back to the house for something, a tool. Remember, she knew nothing about what was going on. As he stealthily worked his way back to the house, he checked to see where his father was. He found him sleeping under the steps. The baby was asleep on the porch; Maria was at the top of the landing.
Alessandro went past Maria into his room and took out a nine inch stiletto knife, which he covered with a handkerchief. He went past her again to the storehouse where he sharpened the blade. Then he called Maria to come into the house. She had made a rule not to be with him anywhere alone. She would not go in. She asked why he wanted her to come inside. He repeated his command. She refused again. Finally, he came out on the landing and dragged her into the house. He brought her into a room and bolted the door. She began screaming, but the sound was drowned out by the sound of the thrasher and the children working with Assunta.
Maria had been through this routine with Alessandro before. But this time she could see a fire in his eyes, straight from hell. He kept trying to put her down and grab at her clothes. She continued fighting with him. He yelled at her: “Give in, Maria. Let me have you, or else...” and for the first time she saw the huge knife. Fear shot through her heart. She knew this was dangerous. She continued to fight with him. This was not working according to his scenario. “I won’t take no for an answer. Either you give in or I’ll kill you.” Still Maria fought for her life. “Why won’t you give in to me?” She cried out, “Because it’s a sin. God forbids it. You will go to hell, Alessandro. You will go to hell if you do it.”
We can picture the rage of Satan that was manifested on the face of this young man. This was the one thing Satan did not want to hear: Don’t talk about hell. This has nothing to do with hell. Don’t bring that into it. It’s just two people doing what comes naturally. Don’t you dare bring morality into it. But Alessandro wouldn’t give up. He was really possessed by Satan at this time. He raised up the knife and threatened her one more time. She cried out, “Alessandro, let me go! Let me go!” He continued to hold the knife over her, threateningly. She realized this was the moment of truth. He was on top of her. She tried to free herself from him. She couldn’t. She yelled out “No! I will not, Alessandro, no!”
Violent anger and hate took over the body and soul of the young man. He began viciously striking at her with the long, sharp knife. He never stopped. He yelled illegible curses at her all the while. He just continued until she was covered with blood. He had stabbed at her stomach and chest fourteen times. She was writhing in pain, moaning, but not speaking. Even through all of this, she tried to keep herself covered. Finally, Alessandro, completely drained of strength, lifted himself off her, threw the knife behind a closet and staggered into his own room, locking the door behind him.
St. Maria Goretti lay there for no one knows how long. Eventually, the baby began crying as a result of all the noise that had taken place. Alessandro’s father, Giovanni, woke up and wondered where Maria was. Then he heard her moaning and calling for help. Assunta could see that the baby was alone on the porch and in danger of falling. She ran into the house at the same time that Giovanni called out for her. Maria had begun to crawl out of the house when Giovanni saw her. At first there was confusion as to what happened, followed by action to try to save her life, followed by indignation and anger when Maria told her mother who had stabbed her. Neighbors who had come with rifles and pitchforks tried to break open the door of Alessandro’s room, but to no avail. The Count entered and told them to wait for the police to come and arrest Alessandro, which they did. He feared they would kill Alessandro.
Little Maria Goretti, fearless Saint of Our Lord Jesus, role model for youth for years to come, suffered for twenty hours before she gave up her body and soul to her Master. An ambulance came to take her to the hospital in Nettuno. The neighbors gathered around her stretcher as they carried her out of her house; they knew they would never see her again. She traveled along a bumpy and dusty road to Nettuno. This was a familiar road to her. She had gone back and forth many times in the six years she had lived in Ferriere.
When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Maria was more dead than alive. She was only concerned about where her mother would sleep, as she was not allowed to sleep in the hospital. A small crowd of people had gathered at the emergency entrance to see the little heroine who had staved off the lustful animal. She tried to maintain a pleasant look, but it was just impossible. The ride had taken its toll on her. But even then, her innocence and beauty could be seen through the pain and agony.
At about the same time Maria was being carried up the stairs of the Orsenigo hospital, two mounted police were dragging Alessandro into the local prison in Nettuno. So the crowd was able to have a real time of excitement. Nothing like this had ever happened before in this little area. They would talk about it for years to come. Almost everyone knew Maria from her frequent visits to the town, and they spent part of the evening remembering what a beautiful and special child she had been.
Maria went through a long night of suffering. After the doctors did whatever they could, they wrapped her in bandages and brought her back to her room. Her mother was sent out to get some rest. The nurses kept a vigil with the child. We don’t know what went through her mind during that night as she woke in fits. From the screams which came out of her mouth, she was reliving the dreaded event with Alessandro. The following morning, Assunta returned to the hospital with the Chaplain, who would give Maria her Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. And as if the Lord had planned it, he was the same priest who had given her First Holy Communion less than six weeks before.
The priest did something which in retrospect, he had to do before he could give her Communion, but which was very important for the Cause of her Canonization. He asked her if she forgave her attacker, reminding her how Jesus had forgiven His killers. She looked like an Angel, as she placed her hands on her breast and forgave Alessandro. She said: “I, too, pardon him. I, too, wish that he come some day and join me in Heaven.”
Maria Goretti, champion of Chastity, died in holiness that hot summer day in 1902in the hospital in Nettuno. She was eleven years old. She was buried locally and remained there until 1929 when the Passionist Fathers asked Assunta’s permission to place her body in the Sanctuary of the Basilica of Our Lady of Grace in Nettuno. She has been enshrined in that church ever since. Assunta obeyed Luigi after the death of her daughter. She took her children with her and returned to Corinaldo. There were times when she wondered if she had been stronger, if she had stood up to Luigi, if the Cimarellis had not wanted to leave Corinaldo, or if they had not followed them, if Maria would still be alive. But then she realized as the years unfolded and the sanctity of her daughter was brought more and more into the public eye, this child was martyred for a reason. She was to be the champion of purity and chastity, long after her death. She was to be a role model for these last days of the Twentieth Century when she would be needed the most. Maria Goretti was beatified in 1947 as a Martyr of Purity. Less than three years later, she was canonized by the same Pope, Pius XII.
At her Canonization on June 24, 1950 in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Pope Pius XII, whom we believe will one day be raised to the Communion of Saints, said of the occasion:
“The concourse of the faithful come here for the occasion, exceeds anything that has ever been witnessed at any other canonization. You have been lured here, We might almost say, by the entrancing beauty and intoxicating fragrance of this lily mantled with crimson whom We, only a moment ago, had the intense pleasure of inscribing in the roll of the Saints: the sweet little martyr of purity, Maria Goretti.
“But why, beloved children, have you come here in such countless numbers to assist at her glorification?
“...why does this story move you even to tears? Why has Maria Goretti so quickly conquered your hearts, and taken the first place in your affections?
“The reason is because there is still in this world, apparently sunk and immersed in the worship of pleasure, not only a meager little band of chosen souls who thirst for Heaven and its pure air - but a crowd, nay, an immense multitude on whom the supernatural fragrance of Christian purity exercises an irresistible and reassuring fascination.
“...During the past fifty years, coupled with what was often a weak reaction on the part of decent people, there has been a conspiracy of evil practices, propagating themselves in books and illustrations, in theaters and radio programs, in styles and clubs and on the beaches, trying to work their way into the heart of the family and society, and doing their worst damage among the youth. (Oh, if you only knew, your Holiness)
“Dearly beloved youth....tell me, are you resolved to resist firmly with the help of Divine Grace, against every attempt made to violate your chastity?
“You fathers and mothers, tell me - in the presence of this vast multitude and before the image of this young virgin who by her inviolate candor has stolen your hearts...in the presence of her mother who educated her to martyrdom and who, as much as she felt the bitterness of the outrage, never complained about her daughter’s death and is now moved with emotion as she invokes her - tell me, are you ready to assume the solemn duty laid upon you to watch, as far as in you lies, over your sons and daughters, to preserve and defend them against so many dangers that surround them, and to keep them always far away from places where they might learn the practices of impiety and of moral perversion?
“Finally, all of you who are intently listening to Our Words, know that above the unhealthy marshes and filth of the world, stretches an immense heaven of beauty. It is the heaven which fascinated little Maria; the heaven to which she longed to ascend by the only road that leads there, which is, religion, the love of Christ, and the heroic observance of His commandments.
“We greet you, O beautiful and lovable Saint! Martyr on earth and Angel in Heaven, look down from your glory on this people which loves you, which venerates, glorifies and exalts you.
“...In you, through Our hands, the children and all the young people will find a safe refuge, trusting that they shall be protected from every contamination, and be able to walk the highways of life with that serenity of spirit and deep joy which is the heritage of those who are pure of heart. Amen” (Speech given by Pope Pius XII at the Canonization of St. Maria Goretti )
St. Maria Goretti, Saint of Purity, Saint of Youth, Saint of the Twentieth Century, is a role model for chastity in our world today. Her sacrifice can be used by those who follow as an example of how to live life to the fullest in Christ Jesus. Her life can be a triumph of good over evil, or it can be a waste. That, my brothers and sisters, is completely up to us. Praise Jesus!
After having written the account of the murder of the little Rose of Jesus, St. Maria Goretti, it is somewhat difficult to write about her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli. However, in this book, we are writing about many sinners who have been involved in the lives of many Saints. This sinner was the cause of the death of our little Saint, Maria Goretti. In a larger sense, he may have been the catalyst who brought her sanctity to the eyes of the world, even though it was through violent and satanic means. Maria Goretti was a Saint, but we might never have known about her and her Sainthood if it had not been for the circumstances by which she was brought to our attention. Alessandro played a major part in our knowing about Maria Goretti. And in an even greater sense, God triumphed through the conversion of this sinner.
Alessandro’s life was much different from Maria Goretti’s in one sense, and much like hers in another. They were both born in the same section of Italy, near Ancona. He and his father moved from the Marches to the area of Nettuno, where they were put together with the Goretti family by Count Mazzoleni who was the landowner. They lived in the same house and worked on the same land, Alessandro in the fields and Maria in the house. But that’s about where the similarity ends.
Alessandro’s mother had been committed to an insane asylum when he was but two years old. She stayed there for the rest of her life and died in the asylum. One of his brothers was committed to the asylum as well. After his mother’s internment in the asylum, Alessandro’s father abandoned him. He spent the next fifteen years in transit, being dispatched from one relative to another, a cousin here, an aunt there. They did not want him, and he resented them. He never knew the love of a mother or father. He never had anyone to hold him and speak softly to him.
At about twelve, he went to work with stevedores on the docks and aboard ship. These were his role models; the worst possible example for a young man, but no one cared about him, and for him, they were a source of survival. They were his family, as much as he would ever know. His language became the language of the stevedores, which is limited at best, and foul at worst. His casual conversation consisted of a raft of vulgarities and curse words.
He was reunited with his father, Giovanni, when he was fifteen. By this time, the die was cast. Although there is nothing in writing to substantiate, most likely the reason his father took him under his wing was that he was getting on in age, close to sixty, and needed a strong young man to help him get work. When he was introduced to the Goretti family at Ferriere, he wanted no part of them. He didn’t speak to them, avoided the children except Maria, and his motives were not honorable where she was concerned.
Alessandro did not socialize with his father as well. He was a loner. He spent his off hours in his room reading lurid and violent books. He took to hanging lewd pictures all around his room. One day, accidentally, Assunta went into his room and found these pictures. She didn’t dare take them away for fear of being accused of invading his privacy. However, she warned Maria and the other children to stay away from the room.
Alessandro had vile and corrupt thoughts towards Maria from the time she began to develop into a young lady. His reading material didn't help at all. He fantasized often about getting Maria into compromising situations where he could have his way with her. It went from fantasy to obsession, to the point where he thought of nothing else. On July 5, 1902, Alessandro determined he would play out his fantasies with her. He went out with Assunta and the children to work in the fields, but then went back into the house on a subterfuge. He began to put his sick plan into effect. However, it didn't work according to his plan. Maria didn't react according to the script he had written in his mind.
She would not come into the house when he called her. She had always been a feisty girl where he was concerned. He always wondered why she hadn't been as nice to him as she was to everyone else. Maybe she could read his mind, he thought. Whatever the case, on that hot summer day, he decided he would have her. He dragged her into the house and proceeded to try to take her clothes off and rape her. She fought harder than he thought she could. He couldn't understand why she wouldn't give in to him. It just didn't make sense.
Now, you have to understand where he was coming from. His world was completely different from most. He lived a life completely foreign to anything we would understand. He did not at this time, look at Maria Goretti in the same light that everybody who knew her did.
According to every report we have read on what happened on that fateful day in July, 1902, Alessandro lost complete control when she said he would go to hell if he raped her. We have to believe he was completely possessed at that moment, and when the name of God was mentioned, he just lost it. The Satan in him raged so violently, the young man attacked what he judged to be the source of his anger. In the months to come, when he was placed on trial, he was found sane and knew what he was doing, we can agree with that. But what he did was so hideous, so violent, so satanic, we believe he had to have lost control at that moment.
Alessandro hid out in his room. He knew they were going to come for him. Or did he think as long as the door was shut, he was safe? The police came, and threatened to knock down the door. He finally allowed them in, but never admitted to having done anything wrong, even though they found his bloodstained shirt and pants in the room. Also, while he had tried to wash his hands with the pitcher and bowl in the room, there was still blood to be seen on his hands, as well as on the pitcher and bowl and towels hidden in the room.
Getting Alessandro out of the house and to the police station was a touch-and-go situation. The police had to protect him from the local people who wanted to kill him. They all loved Maria; they had seen what happened to her before the ambulance came. None of the townspeople could understand how anyone could have committed such an atrocious crime. They wanted to give him some of what he had given Maria.
The soldiers handcuffed Alessandro and dragged him between their two horses as they galloped to the prison in Nettuno. He was held there for some time, but was moved to a prison in Rome for fear the local people would do him harm in Nettuno. At his trial, he denied any involvement in the crime. Finally, he admitted his guilt but claimed to be insane, and used his dead mother and brother as examples. However, his arguments were considered lame at best, and lies at worst. Alessandro was sentenced to thirty years in prison because he was a youth. He was sent to a penitentiary in Sicily.
For the first eight years, they thought maybe he was a little crazy. He didn’t seem angry about being in prison. The only time he went into a rage was when a priest came to see him; it was about the year 1910. He just went crazy. He began screaming at the priest, blaming the Church for all his problems. If Maria had not been taught the way she was, none of this would have happened. According to him, she would have given in to his advances, and he would not have killed her.
The priest tried to calm him down, but the more he talked about God’s Mercy and Maria having forgiven him before she died, the worse Alessandro got. He actually lunged for the priest. If the guards had not interfered, he might have killed the priest, and just compounded his situation, because then he would have been tried as an adult rather than a juvenile, and would, most likely have been given a death sentence.
The priest was completely shaken as he left Alessandro. He tried to console him. “Soon, Alessandro, you will want me. Maria will see to that.”
Alessandro continued to rant. “Never! I’ll never want you, never!”
The priest’s statement proved to be prophecy. Alessandro was not the same after his visit. He couldn’t sleep; he couldn’t eat. He became very nervous. Then one night, while the rest of the prison was in the dead of sleep, a piercing scream came from Alessandro’s cell. He shrieked for the guards. They came running, sure he had been killed. When they looked at him, he was nearly irrational. He mumbled words which didn’t make sense. Finally, he calmed down and told them of Maria’s vision to him. In his own words: “I saw her! I saw her! I saw Maria dressed in dazzling white gathering beautiful lilies in a garden and handing them to me. As I took them from her outstretched hands, they were transformed into small lights that glowed like candles. Call the priest! Bring me a priest!”
The guards made fun of him. They made some malicious jokes and left the cell, laughing. But Alessandro was not to be deterred. He knelt on the floor of the cell and wrote the following note:
“I am deeply sorry for what has happened. I have taken the life of an innocent girl whose one aim was to save her purity, shedding her blood rather than give in to my sinful desires. I publicly retract the evil I have done and beg pardon of God and of the stricken family. One hope encourages me - that I also may one day obtain God’s pardon as so many others have.”
Signed - Alessandro Serenelli - November 10, 1910
From this time on, Alessandro began his conversion. Not much is known about his remaining nineteen years in prison. We’re told he was a model prisoner, and testified till the end of his life that Maria had appeared to him.
After his release from prison, he was considered an outcast by his people. Although he had confessed his crime, and as a result, all doubt as to the authenticity of Maria as Saint was abolished, with possible exception of some Devil’s Advocates in Rome, he was still 26
the killer. Nothing he could do would wipe that out. He went to the tomb of Maria Goretti after his release from prison and prayed there. Then he went deep into a self-imposed solitude, from which he did not come out until he was asked to testify at the Cause for the Beatification of Maria Goretti.
As we mentioned, there were some Devil’s Advocates in Rome who were asking questions like, “Why didn’t she tell someone about his advances?” “Did she provoke him?” “Why did she hesitate before pardoning him?” The people were very upset because Rome was taking so long. But Alessandro put all those questions to rest when he testified before the tribunal. He told them he was to blame completely for everything that had happened. Maria was without guilt; she was entirely innocent of any wrong-doing. That was all they needed. They proceeded with full speed, and although it took them another ten years for the Beatification to actually happen, the people trusted that all obstacles had been removed.
Alessandro returned to Corinaldo in 1937. Assunta had gone back with her children soon after Maria had died. She worked in the Rectory of the church there. Alessandro went to her on Christmas Eve of 1937 to ask her forgiveness. Assunta looked at this man who had taken her precious rose from her, who had changed her life forever. She began to weep, but the words that she uttered were just what we would expect from the mother of Maria Goretti: “Maria forgave you, Alessandro, so how could I possibly refuse.”
The following morning, Christmas Day 1937 found Assunta and Alessandro entering the church together, hand in hand. They went to the front of the church. Alessandro turned to the congregation and confessed his sin. He begged God’s forgiveness, declaring that Maria and Assunta had forgiven him.
The last public appearance Alessandro Serenelli made was on April 28, 1947 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, for the Beatification of Maria Goretti. Alessandro was there with Assunta, and Pope Pius XII for that occasion. Maria was canonized less than three years later on June 24, 1950. Alessandro was not there for her Canonization.
From what we have been able to gather, he retired to a Capuchin monastery in Ascoli Piceno, where he worked as a gardener for the rest of his days. He died on May 6, 1969 after a painful illness caused by a broken hip and arm. According to the Capuchin fathers, his last words were: “I am going to be again with Maria in Paradise.” Praise Jesus!
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”
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