Most of us know the story of Maria Goretti, and the martyrdom that led to her canonization. Hers is truly a story of Love and Mercy, and she is the Patroness of Chasity, Purity, and Youths.
In 1902, an eighteen-year-old neighbor, Alexander, grabbed her from her steps and tried to rape her. When Maria said that she would rather die than submit, saying that Alexander would go to Hell for his actions if she let him do it, Alexander began stabbing her with a knife.
As she lay in the hospital, she forgave Alexander before she died. Her death didn't end her forgiveness, however.
Alexander was captured and sentenced to thirty years. He was unrepentant until he had a dream that he was in a garden. Maria was there and gave him flowers. When he woke, he was a changed man, repenting of his crime and living a reformed life. When he was released after 27 years he went directly to Maria's mother to beg her forgiveness, which she gave. “If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness,” she said.
When Maria was declared a saint in 1950, Alexander was there in the St. Peter's crowd to celebrate her canonization. She was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950 for her purity as model for youth:
…Why does this story move you even to tears? Why has Maria Goretti so quickly conquered your hearts, and taken 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 exercise 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 hearts of the family and society, and doing their worst damage among the youth, even among those of the tenderest years in whom the possession of virtue is a natural inheritance.
Dearly beloved youth, young men and women, who are the special object of the love of Jesus and of us, tell me, are you resolved to resist firmly, with the help of divine grace, against every attempt made to violate your chastity? …
…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. On your forehead you bear the full brilliant and victorious name of Christ. In your virginal countenance may be read the strength of your love and the constancy of your fidelity to your Divine Spouse. As his bride espoused in blood, you have traced in yourself His own image. To you, therefore, powerful intercessor with the Lamb of God, we entrust these our sons and daughters who are present here, and those countless others who are united with us in spirit. For while they admire your heroism, they are even more desirous of imitating your strength of faith and your inviolate purity of conduct. Fathers and mothers have recourse to you, asking you to help them in their task of education. In you, through our hand, the children and 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.
– Homily of Pope Pius XII, June 24, 1950
We see here with the example of Saint Maria Goretti. What can we learn from her today? Taken from remarks by Blessed John Paul II:
- Her canonization showed Maria to the world as an model of courageous fidelity to the Christian vocation, even to the supreme sacrifice of life.
- St Maria Goretti is an example for the newer generations who are threatened by a non-committal attitude that finds it difficult to understand the importance of the values which admit of no compromise.
- Although she was poor and deprived of a school education, Maria, who was not yet 12 years old had a strong and mature personality, shaped by the religious instruction she had received in the family. This made her capable not only of defending herself with heroic chastity, but even of forgiving her murderer. Parents, living and teaching our faith is so important!
- Her martyrdom reminds us that the human being is not fulfilled by following the impulses of pleasure but by living life with love and responsibility. Maria Goretti calls us to be alert and vigilant “watchmen”, be the real champions of a new humanity.
As a martyr of purity, hopefully adolescents and young people will get to know her better.
Our Lady, whose name was given to Saint Maria Goretti, may the purest of human creatures help the men and women of our time, and especially young people, to rediscover the value of chastity and to live interpersonal relations in reciprocal respect and sincere love.