Am 8:4-6, 9-12
St Maria Goretti, Patron of Rape Victims
Today we celebrate the feast of St Maria Goretti, a little Italian girl, only 12 years old who preferred death to committing a mortal sin. On July 5, 1902, while she was at home taking care of her infant sister, 19-year old Alessandro Serenelli propositioned her to have sex with him. When she refused, as she had always done, he stabbed her 14 times and attempted to rape her. Years later, while serving a 30-year sentence for the crime, he confessed that he did not complete the assault and Maria died a physical virgin. All the time he was stabbing her, she kept crying out, “No Alessandro, it is a sin”. He fled the scene and left her bleeding profusely. Before Maria died, she expressed forgiveness for her murderer and prayed for the salvation of his soul.
Serenelli was captured shortly after Maria’s death. He would have received a life-long sentence, but since he was a minor, it was commuted to 30 years. He remained unrepentant until he had a dream, “in which Maria gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands.”
After his release, he begged forgiveness of Maria’s still-living mother, who told him that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed, she could not do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as “my little saint.” He even attended her canonization in 1950.
Serenelli later became a Capuchin Brother and lived a life of prayer and penance until his death in 1970.
In a society in which the sexual abuse of minors is a daily on-going tragedy and in our Church where such sexual abuse by priests has been a recurring scandal, today’s feast is an indictment of all of us if we relent in our efforts to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities. Saint Maria Goretti, pray for us.
- Fr. Damian Towey, CP is a member of the community at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center,North Palm Beach,Florida.