St. Maria Goretti

Born into a poor peasant family of six  children at the end of the 19th century in Italy, Maria Goretti's life was  difficult from the beginning. Her family worked as farm hands and the children  had to help feed the family as well.

Halfway through her short, saintly life,  Maria's father died of malaria. For some time the family had been working in  the fields with another family named Serenelli.   Now Maria's mother had to work in the fields in place of her deceased  husband and left Maria to take care of the smaller children.

She prayed a rosary every night for the  repose of her father's soul and was noted for her piety and virtue by many of  those around her.

In 1902, after many advances on Maria, all  of which she rejected, Alessandro Serenelli, a 19 year old farm hand, locked  her into a room and tried to force himself upon her. She refused, fighting and  warning him that he was committing a sin and that he would go to hell. Enraged,  he then strangled her and stabbed her fourteen times.

She was rushed to hospital when they found  her bleeding to death from her wounds and she survived for two agonizing days  before dying.

In hospital she was asked if she forgave  Alessandro, and she replied "Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive  him...and I want him to be with me in Paradise."

Alessandro was sentenced to prison for 30  years.  One day, eight years into his  prison term, he had a vison of a young girl dressed in white gathering lilies  in a garden. She smiled, came near Alessandro and encouraged him to accept the  lilies. Each lily he took transformed into a still white flame. Then Maria  disappeared.

This vision led to the conversion of  Alessandro who repented deeply of what he had done. He served 19 more years in  prison and was then released.  The first  thing he did on his release was to go and ask the forgiveness of Maria's  mother, which she duly granted. Alessandro worked as a gardener in a Franciscan  monastery for the rest of his life.

Alessandro was one of the witnesses who  testified to Maria's holiness during her cause of beatification, citing the  crime and the vision in prison.

Maria's mother, Assunta, was present at her  canonization ceremony in 1950 - the only time in history that a parent has been  present at their child's canonization - and 250,000 people were in attendance.

Maria Goretti is a patron saint of girls,  rape victims, children and youth in general.