Maria impressed everyone with her radiant purity. She was naturally pious, kind, and helpful. She was also outstandingly beautiful – and Alessandro Serenelli was an outstandingly passionate and undisciplined man. She resisted his attentions, which only made her the more desirable, and narrowly managed to escape a serious sexual assault, which he made her keep secret by means of threats of murder.
A month later Alessandro arranged things so that he would be alone in the house with Maria; and he had a dagger. She tried to resist, begging him to have care for his immortal soul, but he thrust a handkerchief into her mouth to prevent her from crying out, tied her up, and threatened her with the dagger. She could, the theologians say, have consented then, with no danger to her soul; but her love of purity was too great. Alessandro, enraged, stabbed her fourteen times.
She did not die, though her entrails were hanging out from one of her abdominal wounds. She was taken to hospital, seven miles of bad road in a horse-drawn ambulance, and was operated on for more than two hours. She lived for twenty hours more, became a Child of Mary, received the Last Sacrament, and specifically forgave her murderer. She died in the afternoon of 6 July 1902, at the age of eleven years, eight months, and twenty days.
Quite a few feminists over the years have expressed their disgust at the Catholic Church for honoring a girl who decided it was better to die than to just give into her rapist. They seemed to see her death as a defeat, as if because she failed to survive, she was weak and unworthy of admiration from other young women.
But I don't see it that way. I was more impressed that despite her youth and inexperience, Maria stood up for what she believed, even in the face of death, and if she was going to have to accept consequences for what she believed -so be it. That she died on her own terms was a very real victory to my mind.
A few years ago, I blogged about her murderer:
Alessandro Serenelli was the young man who brutally murdered St. Maria Goretti. After years of defiance and hard heartedness, he eventually repented, and was even present at Maria's canonization many years later. In fact he sat next to Maria's mother!
In old age Alessandro wrote:
"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."
Signature, Alessandro Serenelli
I think Maria's feast day is an important one for young girls. Here is a saint who thought her purity was important enough to die for, and yet how many women just throw theirs away on less than worthwhile suitors? Something to think about.
I think Alessandro's story is an important one for young men and illustrates the old Catholic adage of avoiding the near occasion of sin. Alessandro certainly couldn't go down to the drug store and buy Playboy or watch internet porn, and yet what he was able to find was enough to pollute his mind and darken his heart. He is the perfect example of why young men need to guard their eyes and their ears, to protect their hearts and minds.