‘Little saint’ reveals power of forgiveness Print
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

It was a privilege for my husband John and me to serve as part of the honor guard as the relics of St. Maria Goretti were venerated at the church named for her in Madison.

Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in the Diocese of Madison volunteered to stand watch during the veneration from 9 a.m. on October 16 to 5:30 a.m. on October 17. October 16 happened to be the birthday of Maria Goretti, who was born on October 16, 1890, in Corinaldo, Italy.

Venerating the relics

Thousands of people of all ages waited in line at St. Maria Goretti Church to see the relics of this special saint.

I saw much reverence — and even some tears — as young and old alike came forward and touched the casket with their hands and placed Rosaries, prayer cards, pictures, and Bibles on it.

A video played in the church, explaining the life of St. Maria Goretti, narrated by Fr. Carlos Martins. The priest is traveling with the U.S. Tour of the Major Relics of St. Maria Goretti in Honor of the Jubilee of Mercy 2015-1016.

Poignant story

St. Maria Goretti’s story is so poignant. She was born on the eastern side of Italy to a farming family, but poverty forced the family to move to the western side of the country when she was six years old.

Her father died when she was nine, and her family had to share a house with another family, the Serenellis. Maria took over the household chores while her mother, brothers, and a sister worked in the fields.

One afternoon, Alessandro, the Serenellis’ son, made sexual advances to her. She refused to submit to him, because it would be sinful. He then stabbed her 14 times.

She was taken to the hospital, where she died. However, before her death, she forgave her attacker. Her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli . . . and I want him with me in heaven forever.”

Alessandro was captured shortly after the attack by the police. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life in prison, but since he was a minor at that time, it was commuted to 30 years. It has also been said that Maria’s mother, Assunta, pled for mercy for him.

He remained unrepentant for three years, until a local bishop visited him in jail. He wrote a thank you note to the bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream “in which Maria gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands.”

Mother’s forgiveness

What especially impressed me was the response of Maria’s mother. After his release from prison, Alessandro visited Assunta and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him, then she could do no less.

They attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed to Maria every day and referred to her as “my little saint.” He attended her canonization in 1950, along with her mother.

Alessandro became a lay Brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and gardener until dying peacefully in 1970 at age 87.

Youngest saint

On June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII canonized Maria as a saint. Assunta was present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. She was the first mother ever to attend the canonization of her child.

St. Maria Goretti is the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church. Attendance at her canonization exceeded one-half million people, the largest canonization ever.

Many miracles have been attributed to this “little saint.” Above all, she shows us all the power of forgiveness. I encourage people to pray for her intercession, especially for youth that they may follow her example of chastity and mercy.