Saint Maria Goretti:
an inspiration for today' children
John M. Martin, M.M.
Paintings by Candide Inkel
In this day of widespread impurity among youngsters, it is good to know that a twelve-year-old girl fought against a sexual attack by a youth who planned carefully to seduce her. When she refused his advances he flew into a rage and fatally attacked her with a knife.
Her name is Maria Goretti, martyred in the beginning of XX century because she refused to commit an act of impurity with a young man named Alexander.
He became furious over her refusal as she fled from the field where his first attack took place. Later that day she went to lunch with her family and her attacker but then slipped away to hide for several hours.
For a whole week there was no trouble but then as she made the beds with none of the family in the house, he entered quietly from behind and grabbed her.
She fought him off and finally he quit, saying, "If you tell your mother I'll kill you!"
He left the room and she locked the door behind him and stayed there until her mother returned and scolded her for not preparing the meal. Alexander laughed loudly at her discomfort, since he had threatened to kill her if she told on him so she felt that silence was safer, but Alexander did not give up.
He followed her constantly, waiting and watching like the proverbial cat and mouse. His threat rang in her ears, constantly chilling her and yet prayer gave her confidence; God would not forsake her!
A few days later Alexander called out, "Maria, I have a torn shirt that needs mending. I shall need it to go to Mass tomorrow; I'm leaving it on my bed." Although she felt like refusing, true charity won out in her heart and she consented to be of service. Alexander went out to harness the team of oxen.
He drove back and forth on the threshing floor and then suddenly stopped and asked Maria's mother to take his place. "I forgot my kerchief - he explained -.I'll be right back."
Meanwhile Maria was seated on the porch above the kitchen door, mending Alexander's shirt. She recalled that tomorrow would be Sunday, the feast of the Precious Blood and said to herself, "We shall start early so that we can get to Confession and Communion."
Suddenly she hears Alexander coming up the stairs. He goes into the bedroom but then comes to the doorway and in a harsh voice calls, "Maria, come here!" As she responds, he grabs her and pulls her into the bedroom. He threatens her with a knife but she pulls herself free and screams for help but no one hears her.
She leaps behind the table for protection but he knocks it aside and trips her. "Are you going to give in or must I kill you?" he screams. Her only answer is a wild struggle to get away, twisting, screaming and biting, with gasps of "No, I will not!" He argues, "Why?" - "It is a sin, Alexander. You will go to hell!"
The brute in him takes over and he said, later, that something inside him seemed to snap and with mad rage he plunged the knife which he held, into her breast and abdomen. Thinking that she was dead, he threw the bloody knife into the closet, went to his room and locked the door.
When he failed to return, the mother became worried and sent Mariano to check. Shrieks from the room where Maria lay brought several persons up the stairs.
There was Maria on the floor, her clothing soaked in blood. The mother, assisted by another woman, removed the bloody dress and underwear, revealing gashes across her breast, stomach and all over the body.
"Who did this to you?" the mother asked.
Maria whispered, "Alexander."
The mother gasped, "Alexander! But why?"
The answer came slowly in a weak voice, "Because he wanted to commit an awful sin and I would not."
Meanwhile there was much excitement outside. Domenico, a sharecropper, hitched up his cart and went for a doctor in the nearby town, spreading the horrible news along the way. A mob gathered in the yard. Then someone found the bloody knife.
chose death rather than sin
"Alexander," they cried. "Where is Alexander?"
They found his door locked and were planning to break it down when Count Mazzoleni came rushing in and suggested calling the police.
Finally the physician arrived and all were required to leave the room. The medic requested that an ambulance be summoned. It arrived four hours later by horses. Maria was growing weaker from loss of blood. Her mother took a position at her head while the brothers and sisters climbed in to kiss her goodbye. Then the wagon left, the physician riding with the driver.
On the road, two mounted police hurried past dragging a handcuffed man on foot. It was Alexander, perspiring and covered with dust. Fortunately, Maria did not see the trio.
As the ambulance entered Nettuno a great crowd met them. News had spread like wildfire. They had gathered at the prison gate as the prisoner arrived amid threatening cries.
But at the hospital there was silent awe. The chaplain heard Maria's confession on the operating table. The medics found fourteen wounds on her body. In spite of the extreme pain as the wounds were treated without an anesthetic, Maria uttered no sound during the two hours.
Finally she lost consciousness, slowly recovering it. Her mother slipped away. During the night the girl moaned and uttered involuntary cries. In the morning she recalled nothing of her pain. When the chaplain came in he reminded her of how Jesus had pardoned His murderers and Maria said, "I too, pardon Alexander and wish that someday he join me in Heaven." The priest brought the Holy Viaticum to the patient whose eyes were filled with tears of joy.
During the next morning the police sergeant came to draw up formal charges against Alexander. Maria answered his questions briefly without showing the least resentment.
When they were alone again, the mother asked if Alexander had tried to seduce her at other times, and she said that he had threatened to kill her if she mentioned it adding, "But you see he killed me anyway."
Extreme Unction was administered and then for three hours she battled with an invisible enemy shouting, "Alexander let me go! No, no, you will go to hell! Mama, help!"
The last agony began about three o'clock that afternoon. A long gasp seemed to tear out her lungs, the light in her eyes went out as she breathed her last. It was July 6, 1902, the feast of the Precious Blood, a most appropriate day.
Meanwhile what was happening to Alexander? He was imprisoned temporarily in nearby Nettuno and then transferred to "Regina Coeli" prison in Rome to stand trial. After strenuously denying his guilt he finally broke down in the face of overwhelming testimony claiming insanity, but the doctors proved him sane.
However, since he was a minor he was sentenced to only thirty years at hard labor.
where her body is the center of the shrine
Later a priest came to see him and he turned on the cleric in a rage, howling like a maniac and lunging at him. "Soon, Alexander, you will want me - the priest said - Maria will see to that."
"Never - the prisoner screamed - I'll never want you, never!" In the days which followed he lost his appetite and grew nervous.
Then one night in his cell, Maria appeared to him. "I saw her! - he screamed. - Bring the priest." The jailers laughed at him. "If you have anything to say write it to the priest," they answered callously.
Alexander wrote a complete confession, asking God pardon.
After serving his sentence he took up residence at a Capuchin monastery, working in the garden as a tertiary.
He asked pardon of Maria's mother and accompanied her to the Christmas Mass in the parish church where he spoke before the hushed congregation, acknowledging his sin and asking God's forgiveness and the pardon of the people.
Forty years later, June 24, 1950, they both attended the canonization of Maria Goretti by Pope Pius XII in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Today her body is the center of a shrine in Nettuno, near her home, in the basilica of Our Lady of Grace, patroness of youth.
Maria Goretti is helping teenagers to preserve purity in the midst of daily temptations against that priceless virtue so neglected today throughout the world.