Since the sixties of the twentieth century, the so-called sexual revolution has raged through Western culture, and no part of our society has been spared from it. Certainly, good things have emerged, but if we try to take stock soberly and objectively, then what remains now is a sign of the decline of our entire culture.
Everything that has to do with sexuality has in practice been reduced to pure physical pleasure, everything that has to do with marriage is eroded by many factors (divorce, same-sex marriage, premarital relationships, lack of fidelity, love, … ), and above all: everything that has to do with the family – although this is the basis of any healthy society – is substantively debunked: no perpetual bond, no sacramental event, no longer focused on procreation, and with very little room for respect for the partner, in mind and body.
In the past, people knew all that: they called it purity, or chastity. Maria Goretti has become a martyr because of this purity, this chastity, but is that still a message or a sign for our contemporaries?
Life of a young girl:
Maria Goretti was born on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo in Italy and was baptized the next day. The child was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin. Driven by poverty, the family moves to Ferriere di Conca, a hamlet of Nettuno in southern Italy, to a farm on the now no longer existing Pontine swamps. (These poor agricultural areas, affected by swamp fever and malaria, were drained in the twenties of the last century, and opened for agriculture). The upper floor of the building is inhabited by equally poor neighbors, in whom it appears that any form of proper education is lacking. It’s about father and son Serenelli. The son, Alessandro, is a few years older than Maria.
Maria’s father dies on May 6, 1900, but because of the poverty, Maria’s mother cannot decide to move. Illiterate like many at the time, Mary owes it to a schoolteacher and to the local pastor that she learns to read and write enough to make her first Holy Communion, on June 6, 1901. From that moment on, the girl lives in full surrender to Jesus and His Holy Mother.
That helps her stand strong in life and contemporaries testify that at 12 years old Marietta looked 15 and was much more mature than her peers. This rather mature appearance also leads her to increasingly attract the attention of the young Alessandro Serenelli, who tries to win her over. In the long run, the worst happens: on July 5, 1902, he attacks Maria while she is doing small jobs at home in and around the house, but Maria defends herself. Alessandro feels that he can’t handle her, that he can’t overwhelm her, grabs a knife, and pierces the girl with 14 knife marks. Maria is still alive, can call for help and with the help of neighbors she is taken to a hospital. Her injuries are so serious that she dies on July 6, 1902, but not before she has been able to confess and receive Holy Communion one last time from the hands of the rector of the hospital and after she pardoned her killer: “I forgive him, and I wish that he too will be with me in heaven later”. Maria Goretti dies at 03h45, in the presence of her mother Assunta.
Her killer, Alessandro Serenelli, is sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Very soon there is a great devotion for the young martyr. As early as April 27, 1947, she was beatified by Pope Pius XII, receiving the symbols of the lily and the palm branch, signs of purity and of her victory over sin.
On June 24, 1950, the canonization follows, by Pius XII, in the presence of Mary’s mother Assunta and her relatives. Her murderer is also present, after reconciling himself with the Church, and publicly asking forgiveness from Mary’s mother.
The Church sets Maria Goretti as an example for all virgins, and as patroness of youth. She has chosen death over sin, the way of purity, which leads to God, over the easy way of yielding to evil. The remains of this young saint are preserved and venerated in the church of Our Lady of Grace in Nettuno.
What can St. Maria Goretti mean for our time?
In the eyes of many of our contemporaries, canonization will be incomprehensible. After all, had the young Mary given in to the urges of her murderer, she might have lived a long life.
In addition, what stood above all for Maria Goretti, her love for Jesus and His Mother and her purity as a dedication in her youthful life, are no longer of this time for many.
Nevertheless, she can be a shining example for our youth, who are taught absolute freedom in an age of moral decay, where infidelity, hedonism without borders, impurity and a too early sexual activity are rampant. Physical purity or chastity and spiritual integrity must therefore be relearned as a philosophical mentality. This will lead our society back to healthy family ties, in which the family as a giver and transmitter of life is central, and in which there will be room for respect for sexuality as part of a life focused on personal gift and loyalty.
Praying to Maria Goretti could be a help for young people in search of what they want to be, for parents who have a hard time showing and teaching their children the way of purity, for teachers to impart a fruitful and Catholic vision of relationships, family, procreation, and positively experienced sexuality. Maria Goretti can teach us that with God’s help it is possible to be great by practicing the Christian virtues in all simplicity in the family circle, in faith to God’s Mother, the Eucharist and by receiving the sacraments.
“Saint Maria Goretti, watch over the youth of the whole world”
After the death of Alessandro Serenelli (6 May 1970), the following letter was found in a sealed envelope (own translation from Dutch):
I’m almost eighty years old now; my life is coming to an end. When I look back on the past, I must confess that I went a bad way in my youth; I made a mess of it. I saw the world through the eyes of the media, the entertainment and the bad examples that are followed by many young people without thinking. There were also people who put their faith into practice, but I did not pay any attention to that, blinded as I was by a brute force that pushed me more and more downhill.
At the age of twenty I committed a lust murder; just thinking back on it fills me with horror now. Maria Goretti is now a saint. She was the good angel that Providence put in my path to save me. Her words of reproach and forgiveness are burned into my soul. She prayed for me; she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of imprisonment were the result. If I hadn’t been a minor, I would have been given a life sentence. I resigned myself to the verdict I had earned. I was guilty.
Little Mary was indeed my light, my protector. With her help, I demonstrated good behavior in prison for twenty-seven years. I longed to live an honorable life, if the human community would give me another chance. Sons of Saint Francis, the little Capuchins of Marche, welcomed me with angelic love, not as a servant, but as a brother. I have been able to share their lives for twenty-four years now. Now I wait in all purity for the moment when I will be able to see God and embrace my loved ones of yesteryear, and that I may be close to my guardian angel and her dear mother Assunta.
I hope that those who will read this letter from me may learn from the very beginning to flee evil and always do good. Keep faith in mind with its rules: not as something you could do without, but rather as a true consolation, the only safe way in all circumstances, even if they are still so miserable. Peace and all good for you.