Many people struggle with forgiveness, even when dealing with the most trivial grievances. Our human natures cling to thoughts of bitterness and revenge, the opposite of what God expects from us.
Could you forgive an attacker after he stabbed you fourteen times? St. Maria Goretti was only eleven, but she knew what God expected of her. When told by the surgeon that her life would soon end, she forgave her attacker. This act of mercy would change the lives of many, including her attacker.
Who was this girl and what led to such a brutal attack?
The Farmer’s Daughter
Maria Teresa Goretti was born on October 16, 1890. She was born into a farming family. When Maria was nine, her father died, leaving his wife and children to struggle for survival. They were forced to make many sacrifices.
One of the sacrifices they made was agreeing to share a house with another family, unable to afford their own. While her mother and siblings worked in the fields, Maria took care of the house. She would wash clothes, sweep floors, and keep the kitchen tidy.
She was a devout girl for her young age. When her family went to the fields and left her, she knew she was not alone, and did her chores with prayerful joy. The Holy Spirit speaks to us as we work or sit in silence. We should not fear the quiet; it has made many saints.
Maria and her family shared a home with a family called the Serenellis. Their twenty-year-old son, Alessandro, began to lust for Maria and made repeated attempts to seduce her. She refused all of them, but he persisted.
One day, after her family left for work, Maria sat on the front steps of the house mending clothes. Alessandro spotted her and made another attempt, but again she refused his advances. Enraged, he tried to take her by force, but she fought him heroically.
In the heat of this battle, Alessandro’s fury led him to a graver act. He grabbed a knife and stabbed his victim fourteen times. Young Maria was taken to the hospital, apparently the loser of the battle–but was she?
The Real Victor
The surgeon tried to save Maria’s life, but the wounds were too deep and too many. He soon realized that he could do nothing for her. It is said that he asked his patient, weeping, to pray for him in Heaven.
“I will gladly pray for you,” Maria said.
Who is the true warrior–the one who survives and lives as a coward, or the one who falls with courage? When told she would not survive, she yearned to enter Paradise. Rather than fear her impending death, she embraced it with joy.
She told her mother, Assunta, that she forgave Alessandro. She then asked her mother to forgive him, as well. Her mother agreed, saying, “If my daughter can forgive her attacker, how could I not?”
Shortly after this exchange, Maria passed away, having used her greatest weapon on her deathbed: forgiveness.
Maria’s attacker, Alessandro, was sentenced to thirty years in prison. For the first three years of his incarceration, he was stubborn and unwilling to communicate with anybody. He displayed no remorse for what he had done; he was alive, but a coward.
Three years into his incarceration, a Bishop visited him. The Bishop sat and spoke with him, a conversation that caused his heart to soften at last. Alessandro began to feel repentance for the great sin he had committed.
He later sent a letter to the Bishop claiming that Maria had visited him in a dream. In the dream, she offered him a handful of lilies. When he accepted the flowers from her, they caught fire in his hands. Alessandro interpreted this dream as Maria’s way of forgiving him–and a warning to make repairs while he had time.
Peace At Last
The first thing he did after his release from prison was visit Maria’s mother, Assunta. He begged the woman for forgiveness and, faithful to what she had told Maria, Assunta granted it. The next day they attended Mass together.
Alessandro dedicated the rest of his life to serving and loving God. He attended St. Maria Goretti’s canonization in 1950. Later he became a lay brother in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
He lived in their monastery, working as a gardener and living in prayer, until his death at the age of 83.
Veneration Of St. Maria Goretti
St. Maria Goretti’s remains were placed in a wax statue in a glass case for veneration. Many people mistakenly believe that she is one of the Saints blessed with incorruption, but this is not the case.
She is venerated at the church of Nostra Signora Della Grazie in Nettuno, south of Rome. She is the patron saint of unmarried girls and of purity. She is also often called upon for forgiveness. Many miracles have been attributed to her intercession.
What can we learn from the story of St. Maria Goretti? Her fight to defend her purity is heroic, but many fail to see her other act of heroism: forgiveness. How often have we burned bridges or sought payback for smaller faults done to us?
St. Maria Goretti teaches us that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but strength. She challenges us to be merciful to those who have hurt us. The strength in this eleven-year-old to forgive Alessandro is something every Christian is expected to seek.
Do an examination of conscience and ask yourself how many people you resent because of their mistakes. A strong person will forgive rather than let the incident invade their mind.
After all, Christ did tell us to forgive:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.Matthew 6:14-15, NIV