Albano Laziale, Italy, Jul 7, 2014 / 05:58 am
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."