“Maria, come here!” Nineteen-year old Alexander ordered. Maria was thoroughly frightened. “Do you hear me? Come here immediately!” Alexander was already impatient. He grabbed her by the arm and roughly dragged her into his room and bolted the door. Maria shouted for help but it was of no use for nobody could hear her. There was little chance for escape. With a knife Alexander threatened her but Maria kept screaming and struggling to be free. Her struggle served to enrage him. He wanted to silence her. Then Alexander had already pinned her down with his knee. He drew the knife over her and asked her the decisive question, “Will you or will you not?” Maria became quiet. The knife was hanging over her breast. She knew she must choose at that instant: death or life; sin or martyrdom.
Maria Goretti was born on October 16, 1890 in Italy. She was the oldest girl in a family of six children. Her parents were hardworking, pious, and honest. The family moved from Corinaldo to Rome. There Giovanni Serenelli and his son Alexander came to live with the Goretti family. Before their arrival, Luigi, Maria’s father, had been working very hard on the farm to provide for his family. Giovanni and Alexander joined him in the farm work and proved to be hard workers.
One day, Assunta, Maria’s mother, was cleaning out Alexander’s room and she saw that he had clipped a number of impure pictures from magazines and hung them around his bed. She had wanted to tear them out and throw them into the fire. But she thought of the trouble and quarrel that would bring into the home. She thought to herself it would perhaps be better if she did not interfere. She was not responsible for Alexander’s conduct especially as his father was aware of these things and it was up to him to take action. Assunta however resolved to watch her eldest son, Angelo, carefully so that the evil influence of Alexander might not lead him astray. Even though she was illiterate, she was pious. She tried to ground her children in Christian virtues. She did not even tell her husband of her discovery.
Luigi later died. Assunta joined Giovanni and his son to work in the fields. Maria became the manager of the household. She cared for her little brothers and sisters. Chores kept her busy from morning to night. She was tall for her age, slender and graceful. Maria had never gone to school but she learned her prayers by heart from her mother and she taught them to her brothers and sisters. She was very rich in virtue. Her mother taught her to love God wholeheartedly and to hate sin above all else. “Rather to die than to commit sin” became Maria’s rule of life at a tender age. Her virtue of purity shone especially. She was very careful about the way she spoke, dressed, and walked. She was not one to have an impure conversation.
Two times Alexander had tried to gratify his desire with her but she refused. He had threatened to kill her if she ever told her mother. This day, on which he pinned her down to the floor, he had pretended to forget his handkerchief and rushed to the house after telling Assunta. Maria was alone with the baby, Theresa, who was asleep when Alexander came in.
In the midst of the struggle, the question that would determine Maria’s fate came, “Will you or will you not?” “No! I will not, Alexander, no!” Something snapped in Alexander and tragedy followed. Infuriated Alexander plunged the knife into her breast and abdomen one, two, three…six…ten…fourteen times.
Later an ambulance came to take Maria to the hospital where it was seen immediately that she could not possibly live. Her last hours were touching. In spite of her agony which lasted for twenty-four hours, she forgave her murderer. That was a heroic act.
Maria died preserving her virginity. She cherished the virtue of purity. Her heroic example challenges especially the youths of today many of whom are lose in morals. Maria shames those who would advertise say a car on TV and an immodestly clad woman is part of the advert as if the message was “buy the car and get the woman free.” She disgraces musical artists whose lyrics contribute to impurity – “Take off your skirt,” “Time to have sex.” She embarrasses producers and watchers of pornographic films. Her heroic act of not giving in cries “Woe” to authors of corrupt novels and magazines. She sends a strong message to those who dress indecently all in the name of fashion. Except these people have a change of heart, the terrible justice of God will come down upon them.
Forty-eight years after her death, Pope pius XII canonized Maria Goretti in the presence of her mother. Assunta Goretti is the first mother ever to witness her daughter’s canonization. She probably had tears in her eyes on that day looking at the magnificent picture of her daughter.
Back to Alexander. He was sentenced to thirty years of hard labour. For a long time he was brutal and unrepentant. Then one night in the solitude of his cell, Maria appeared to him gathering flowers and offering them to him. This led to the conversion of Alexander and it was a miracle in itself.
This may shock you: Maria was only twelve years old when she died.