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St. Maria Goretti: an inspiring example of the power of forgiveness

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St. Maria Goretti, whose feast is celebrated on July 6, is one of the youngest canonized saints in the Catholic Church. Her powerful testimony of forgiveness shows how someone’s life can dramatically change after being forgiven.

Goretti was born on Oct. 16, 1890, in Corinaldo, Italy, to poor tenant farmers and was the third of six children. She never learned to read or write and received her first Communion much later than other children her age; however, she had a very strong faith.

When Goretti was 9, her father died of malaria. This forced her mother to take his place working in the fields and left Maria taking care of the household and her younger siblings. Goretti never complained and, despite the hardships, remained joyful.

During her many trips to sell eggs and buy supplies for her family at the nearby village, Goretti would stop to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Graces. Seeing as her family was too poor to pay for Masses in her father’s memory, she would instead pray the five mysteries of the rosary for the repose of her father’s soul.

Not only did Goretti have to tend to her own family, but she also had to cook and clean for her next-door neighbors — Giovanni Serenelli and his 20-year-old son, Alessandro Serenelli. It was at this time that the younger Serenelli began to develop an impure attraction toward Maria and would often make rude and inappropriate comments to her.

On July 5, 1902, Serenelli grabbed Goretti and attempted to sexually assault her. “No! It is a sin, God does not wish it,” young Maria reportedly said to her attacker. Filled with anger, Alessandro Serenelli stabbed Goretti 14 times.

When Goretti’s family returned home, they found her lying in a pool of blood on the floor. She was rushed to the hospital where she underwent surgery without anesthesia. She died on July 6 but before passing, forgave her attacker, saying: “Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him and I want him to be with me in paradise.”

Serenelli was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In his 11th year of incarceration, he had a vision of Goretti where she appeared to him, dressed in white, gathering lilies from a garden. She then turned and began to hand each lily to Serenelli. Each lily he took transformed into a white flame. This dream left a lasting impact on him.

When he was released 27 years later, he immediately went to Goretti’s mother and begged her for forgiveness. She said: “If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness?”

Goretti was canonized on June 24, 1950, by Pope Pius XII with both her mother and Serenelli present.

Serenelli went on to become a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, where he lived in a monastery and worked as its gardener until his death.

Today Goretti is the patron saint of rape victims, chastity, teenage girls, youth, poverty, purity, and forgiveness.

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St. Maria Goretti: an inspiring example of the power of forgiveness