Maria Goretti was born in 1890 in Italy, the daughter of Luigi and Assunta Goretti. Nine years later in 1899, her father Luigi began to work for a Count farmer south of Rome and made a deal with Mr. Serenelli that his family would share the same house with the Serenelli family, also laborers for the same farmer. Maria’s father Luigi died of malaria.
In June 1902 Mr. Serenelli’s son, Alessandro, began to cause trouble for Maria. He began to boss her around and to make advances towards her, which she shrugged off. Her big mistake was the she did not tell her mother because she did not want to cause trouble. The following month, on July 5th 1902, he decided that he would be denied no longer. Alessandro, aged twenty, motioned her towards the bedroom but she refused shouting, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” He stabbed her fourteen times.
While being taken to hospital on a horse-drawn ambulance she told everything. In the nearby hospital she underwent twenty hours of surgery without anesthesia. During that time she forgave Alessandro and prayed for him. On the following day, July 6th she died. She was not yet twelve years old.
Alessandro was sentenced to thirty years hard labor. After six years in prison he was near despair and one night in 1910 Maria appeared to him in his cell. She smiled and was surrounded by lilies, symbols of purity. That was a turning point in Alessandro’s life and he regained his peace.
His first deed after release from prison was to visit Maria’s mother and ask pardon. He accompanied her to Christmas Mass in the parish church where he spoke before the congregation, acknowledging his sin and asking forgiveness from God and the community. He took up work in a Capuchin monastery as the gardener.
In 1947 Maria Goretti was beatified. Her mother and murderer were present. In June 1950 Pope Pius XII canonized Maria Goretti declaring her to be a saint and martyr. Her mother was present and a huge crowd of up to 500,000 people. It was the first time in history that a mother was present at the canonization of her child.
In May 1970 Alessandro died. He had left the following letter, dated May 1961.
“I’m nearly 80 years old. I’m about to depart. Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself. My behavior was influenced by print, mass media and bad examples, which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried. There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life. When I was 20 years old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me.
Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed. If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault. 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’ve been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.
I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.”
Signed, Alessandro Serenelli