Maria Goretti's greatest witness is forgiveness, priest observes

Body of Saint Maria Goretti in the basilica of Nottuno Credit Daniel Ibez CNA CNA Body of Saint Maria Goretti in the basilica of Nottuno, Italy. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Following St. Maria Goretti's feast day, the rector of the basilica where her body resides stated that her willingness to forgive is her most prominent testimony, and that her virtue is an example for family life.

Maria's greatest witness is forgiveness, Fr. Giovanni Alberti told CNA July 7.

"Many people come saying I left to forgive, with the example of Maria Goretti. These people that are leaving, go with a great lesson from the child Saint," Fr. Alberti said. 

Fr. Alberti has been rector of the Basilica of the Mother of Grace and of Saint Maria Goretti in Nottuno, Italy for the past six years. He said the assignment is "a great responsibility and a call to live with great simplicity."

The saint's July 6 feast day included a large procession the night before beginning at the basilica and lasting six miles to the house where she lived for four years prior to her death. Some 4,000 people attended the procession to celebrate the life of the saint. 

Born in the city of Corinaldo, Italy in 1890, St. Maria Goretti was the eldest of six children. She was killed at the age of 11 while resisting a rape, and is considered a martyr for chastity. 

Coming from a poor family, Maria assisted her mother in housework and in caring for her five younger siblings following her father's death.

In 1902 a neighboring farmhand, Alessandro Serenelli, who had made previous inappropriate comments and sexual advances toward her, attempted to rape Maria in her house. When she resisted, Alessandro stabbed her 14 times.

After being found bleeding to death, she was rushed to the hospital in Nettuno, where she forgave Alessandro, saying: "Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him…and I want him to be with me in paradise."

While in prison several years later, Alessandro converted after having a dream in which Maria handed him 14 white flowers that burst into flame. The flowers represented the 14 wounds he had inflicted upon her; the flames symbolized forgiveness. After being released from prison he became a Capuchin tertiary and attended Maria's beatification alongside her mother.

Speaking of Maria's continuous example today, Fr. Alberti explained that those who come to the basilica in Nettuno receive a great lesson in forgiveness because "today we have many conflicts, also social."

"We have situations of rupture in the family, in marriage. So this element of forgiveness, this teaching of Jesus is coming out, we say, decisively to change the rapport of the people, also of the family."

"To know that there is a saint who forgave the one that killed her, is becoming an important resource in forgiveness, more than the other aspects," he noted, describing how there "is not just one aspect" of her holiness, but many.

"There is also that of the dignity of women, the respect of women, of a sexuality that is healthy and balanced. Then there is faith in God, there is prayer, there is her devotion to Mary, her devotion to the Eucharist, and there is forgiveness, and her testimony of eternal life.

Fr. Alberti said Maria's desire to have her killer with her in paradise was remarkable for several reasons.

"It's a testimony of a life after life. For a child of 11 this is enormous. These are very great things."

During her life, Maria often could not go to church or school because her family lived far away from any parish. Still, Fr. Alberti said, "she had a school in her family," because hers was "a family marked and full of virtue, full of, we say, resources."

"She was truly the child of a family…The family is also fundamental and irreplaceable, in this aspect."

Margherita, a 68-year-old volunteer who assists the community overseeing the basilica, told CNA July 7 that "Marietta" is "very dear" to her because she was born in Nettuno and has known the saint all her life.

"I knew Marietta since I was a little girl," she said. "The name of Marietta was always present."

Recalling an accident she had on a horse when she was three years old, Margherita recounted how when she went to the hospital to get stitches on her face, the doctor said that it was a miracle she wasn't injured worse, because if the horse had been more aggressive she would have died.

"So in the family everyone used to say oh this is a miracle of Saint Maria Goretti, she was protecting Margherita," she observed.

"I used to go around and tell everyone that I received a miracle from Saint Maria Goretti."

"So as you can see she is very dear to me, and I do whatever I do for her, in her name, with great joy."

Margherita also revealed that the Nettuno diocese is planning to bring Maria Goretti's body to the United States and Canada for a month-long tour in 2015.

"We are organizing with someone from the States," she said. "Already Cardinal Dolan from New York knows about it," and "he's very enthusiastic."

Margherita said the plan is for the tour to go to nine dioceses, including New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Toronto. The body will also go to New Jersey, where some relatives of Maria Goretti reside. 

The dates of the tour are still being discussed, but tentative dates could be Jan. 25 – March 1, 2015, due to the low tourism traffic in Nettuno during that time.

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