Sunday, July 02, 2006

Purity at all cost (Maria Goretti)

After a year of working in the farms of Nettuno, Luigi Goretti died of malaria in 1900. He left his wife, Assunta, as a widow to take care of their six children. Among those children was the ten-year-old Maria, who served as a great comfort to Assunta in her moment of grief. Many times, she would assure her mother, “Jesus would provide for us.”
Maria never complained about the household chores which were left for her. While Assunta worked in the farm, she would clean the house, cook meals, take care of her younger siblings, and many more. She acted maturely that she received the Holy Communion at the age of eleven. From that moment on, Maria promised to die rather than commit a sin. She promised “purity at all cost.” Girls of her age would often call her “the little old lady.”
Living with the Gorettis were Giovanni Serenelli and his eighteen-year-old son, Alessandro. Both of them also worked in the farm. Alessandro would often pleasure himself in reading adult magazines given to him by his father. Assunta would often be shocked to see dirty pictures in Alessandro’s room. But the religious atmosphere created by the Gorettis awakened some religious sentiment in Alessandro. joined in the Rosary that they recited as a family; on feast days he attended Mass, and he even went to confession from time to time. Alessandro was a nice person, though. He often spoiled Maria in front of everyone. But Maria was afraid of him, since she knew what he wanted. He liked Maria, and, according to him, he first noticed Maria’s beauty while praying the family rosary.
Unknown to Assunta, Alessandro keeps on proposing indecent proposals to Maria. Maria would refuse him, saying, “No, never! It is a sin. . . You would go to hell!” but Alessandro threatened her, “If you tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you!” So, Maria kept silent and would give way for her tears when in moments of fear.
Assunta started noticing that Maria would act in a weird manner. She begged her mother not to leave her alone in the house, but didn't dare clearly expose to her mother the grounds for her fear There was no childish playfulness left in Maria. The cares of the world clouded her eyes with sadness. Her night prayers become longer. She examined her conscience repeatedly for occasions of sin, her small body trembled with fear and bitter sobs. But Maria would always assure her that she was fine.
On July 5, 1902, before everyone went to work in the farm, Alessandro handed Maria his shirt for mending. Maria again asked her mother, with tears, not to leave her alone. Not having obtained any further explanation, Assunta believed it to be a childish whim, and did not give any consideration to this repeated plea.
At about three in the afternoon, Alessandro asked Assunta to drive the oxe for him for a while. Then, he went to the house. He passed by Maria, who was alone with her sleeping baby sister, Teresa. She was mending his shirt on the landing near the entrance of the house. When Maria saw him, she was terrified. But Alessandro passed by her. Maria thought she was safe, until Alessandro called her. “Tell me what you want, or I will not follow you,” said Maria. Faced with resistance, Alessandro grabbed Maria by the arm to the kitchen. Little Teresa began to cry. But the cries of Teresa and Maria’s screams were not heard outside.
He gagged Maria tried to undress her. He showed Maria his knife and said., “Don’t try to stop me or I’ll kill you.” Maria trembled with fear, but she would rather die than commit sin. “Purity at all cost” is what was taught to her before her communion. She fought Alessandro like a tigress. She managed to free herself from the gag and shouted, “Don't do it… It's a sin… You will go to Hell!!” Alessandro began stabbing Maria and left her for dead. He locked himself in his room as if to sleep. But he heard Maria calling out for her mother, so he returned and stabbed her more to finish her. Finally, Maria fell unconscious. He thought she was dead and returned to his room.
Giovanni, who was sleeping beneath the stairs, heard Teresa crying. He thought it was due to Maria’s neglect, so he climbed the stairs and entered the house. In it, he saw Maria, lying unconscioussly in the pool of her own blood. He called Assuinta to the house. Assunta and the neighbors rushed to the house. Seeing her daughter brutalized in such a manner, Assunta fainted.
After regaining her consciousness, she asked Maria, “Maria, what happened? Who did this to you?” Maria replied, “It was Alexander, Mama... Because he wanted me to commit an awful sin and I would not.” Maria was laid tenderly on a bed while a neighbor summoned the ambulance.
Assunta tried to soothe her daughter's agony as the ambulance wagon bumped along on that torturous trip to the hospital in Nettuno. The doctors attempted to repair the extensive damage, but could give Assunta no encouragement. Each time Maria remembered Alessandro, she would scream in terror. She was operated on for two hours without anaesthetic. The doctors found 14 major stab wounds and more minor ones.
In the hospital, Maria prayed, “Jesus, you have suffered so much for me, please help me in my suffering for you.” A doctor said to a priest in the hospital, “Father, you have found an angel. I’m afraid we would leave behind a corpse.” The priest asked Maria if she would like to join the Children of Mary. Maria said she wanted to. So, the priest placed around her neck the Miraculous Medal. Maria kissed the medal and prayed, “Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Maria’s mother was permitted to be by her bedside. Maria comforted her, saying, “Mother, my dear mother, I am well now… How are the little brothers and sisters doing?” Then, Maria asked for water, even just a drop. Assunta told her, “My poor Maria, the doctor won't allow it, it will make you worse.” Then Maria said, “Is it possible that I can't have a drop of water.” After glancing at Jesus on the cross, who said “I thirst,” Maria resigned herself in peace to God’s will. She never ceased praying and offering herself to Our Lady.
The next day, a priest came to give Maria her last sacraments. Before he gave her Viaticum, he asked her if she forgave her murderer with all her heart. Maria replied with no hesitation, “Yes, I too, for the love of Jesus, forgive him ... and I want him to be with me in Paradise ... May God forgive him because I already have forgiven him.”
The end was nearing. She was heard to call out, “Papa.” Finally, after a last appeal to Mary, she entered into the immense joy of Paradise. It was the 6th of July, 1902, at three o'clock in the afternoon. She died kissing a crucifix.
Alessandro was arrested a few hours after the murder. A mob tried to lynch him, but the police protected him. He was sentenced to thirty years of imprisonment. He spent his life in prison in an unrepentant manner. All efforts to convert him were in vain.
But one night, he had a dream of Maria in paradise. She offered him some flowers and, when he received the flowers, they turned into flames. The next day, he wrote to the bishop, “I regret my crime so much more, that I am aware that I have taken the life of a poor innocent girl who, up to the last moment, wanted to save her honor, sacrificing herself rather than give in to my criminal desire. I publicly beg pardon from God and from the poor family for this great crime committed. I want to hope that I too will obtain my pardon, like so many others on this earth.” The bishop went to Alessandro and told him that Maria forgave him. When he learned this, he sobbed, “Maria forgave me?” Then he burst into tears. He went to confession and confessed the crime. Because of his good conduct, he was soon released.
After his release, he went to Assunta, who was now in Corinaldo. Hardly, he begged for her forgiveness. “Assunta, will you forgive me?” Assunta placed her hands on his head, caressed his face and gently said, "Alessandro, Marietta forgave you, Christ has forgiven you, and why should I not also forgive. I forgive you, of course, my son! Why have I not seen you sooner? Your evil days are past, and to me, you are a long-suffering son.” It was Christmas at that time. That evening, the neighbors were surprised to see Alessandro and Assunta, side by side, at the mass at Maria’s shrine. From that time on, members of the Goretti family lovingly called him “Uncle Alessandro.”
There was great devotion to Maria after her death. Many people who sought her intercession had their prayers answered. In 1947, Maria was beatified. Alessandro was one of the witnesses in the process to make her beatified and canonized. He was the only witness to the climax of Maria’s life, the one which happened in the kitchen of their house on July 5, 1902.
Assunta and Alessandro were present in Maria’s canonization in 1950. Assunta must have had many thoughts and mixed emotions as she listened to His Holiness, Pope Pius XII deliver this homily. More than 250,000 people had gathered in the piazza, St. Peter's Square on the evening, June 24, 1950 to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to pray, and to honor Assunta’s canonized daughter.
Alessandro, though forgiven by Assunta, was not accepted by the community. He lived as an outcast and became a gardener for the Capuchin monks. The brothers in the monastery did not only accept him as a servant, but as a brother. Before dying in 1969, he wrote:
“I'm nearly 80 years old. I'm about to depart. Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself. ”My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried. ”There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life. ”When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. ”I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed. If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.
“Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. ”The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I've been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta. ”I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.”


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