Tuesday, July 6, 2010

St. Maria Goretti, youthful martyr

Today's liturgy allows for the possibility of an optional memorial of St. Maria Goretti, martyr to youthful purity. Her canonization in 1950 as I was finishing the first grade is one of my earliest memories of things Roman, especially as this young woman saint was held up to us as an ideal. Perhaps this could be revived in our day...in our Catholic schools particularly, as the sexualization of youth seems omni-present, which must stir concerns among parents.

Maria Goretti died a martyr before her twelfth birthday. Young as she was, she made a choice, a choice based on her faith. The Church holds up to the world the life, death and the faith of Maria Goretti.

The daughter of humble sharecroppers, Maria and her family moved to the little town of Ferriere, Italy in 1899 in search of work .Desperately seeking to support his family, Luigi Goretti struck up a bargain with Signor Serenelli, who had a son named Alessandro. The two families lived together in a building owned by Count Mazzolini.

Maria quickly matured in grace and holiness in the eyes of friends and other acquaintances. After losing her father to malaria, she developed great strength and maturity. Her charming modesty, cheerful obedience and the serious, but free acceptance of a hundred thankless home chores distinguished her from the other children who would play in the dusty streets of Ferriere. Perhaps the highlight of her life was her First Holy Communion, which she dutifully prepared for and awaited with great anticipation. She truly seemed to be advancing "in wisdom, and age and grace before God and men."

Lured by the passions of his day and nurturing the dark side of his soul with impious reading and thoughts, Alessandro Serenelli had been a thorn in lovely Maria's side. He propositioned her on several occasions and harassed her with impure suggestions. On July 5, 1902, he would be denied no longer. As she once again rebuffed his sexual advance, shouting, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!", Alexander lunged to the deed, stabbing Maria 14 times.

Doctors in Nettuno tried to save Maria's life to no avail. After 20 painful hours of suffering during which she forgave and prayed for Alessandro, Maria entered Heaven fortified with the Last Sacraments. Her last earthly gaze rested upon a picture of the Blessed Mother. It was July 6, 1902.

Almost fifty years later on June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII stood on the steps of St. Peter's in Rome and pronounced Maria Goretti a Saint and Martyr of the Universal Church to half a million people. He proposed her as the Patroness of Modern Youth and set July 6th as her feast Day. Her mother, and her murderer, attended the canonization ceremony together.

This was the triumph of the little girl who loved God and hated sin. Maria Goretti had led a very ordinary life. But in spite of her simplicity, her great faith and love for God made her truly extraordinary. Many recorded miracles, both spiritual and physical, have been worked through St. Maria Goretti's intercession. Worldwide, there are many places of devotion to St. Maria Goretti, such as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces and St. Maria Goretti in Nettuno.

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