Saint Maria Goretti: model of purity
By Voice of the Family | 5 July 2023
6 July is the feast day of Saint Maria Goretti, a martyr and model of purity — especially for today, when the world around us seems completely devoid of this particular virtue. Not only is Saint Maria Goretti a model of purity but, as Dr Plinio Correa de Oliveira argues, she could also be called “the patroness of moral absolutes”. That one’s defence and fight for virtue must be complete was a truth that she not only understood but lived and died for.
Maria Goretti’s short life was hard and obscure. Born on 16 October 1890 in Corinaldo, Italy, she was left in charge of her five siblings from an early age, while her mother, a widow, worked in the fields to sustain the family. Their neighbour Giovanni Serenelli and his son Alessandro also worked in the fields. The latter took an impure interest in young Maria, but his crude advances were always firmly rejected.
One day, when Maria was just 11 years old, Alessandro found her alone in the kitchen of her home and tried to force her to engage in acts of impurity with him. Maria fought for her virginity and shouted, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” Alessandro then stabbed her 14 times. She died 20 hours later from her wounds, whispering words of forgiveness for her murderer.
Her heroic suffering and forgiveness bore a sweet fruit in Alessandro’s conversion while he served his prison sentence — so unlikely and so complete, it was unquestionably attributed to the intercession of his victim.
Maria Goretti was beatified by Pope Pius XII on 27 April 1947 and canonised by the same pontiff on 24 June 1950, in the presence of her mother Assunta. Her earthly remains rest in the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces (Madonna delle Grazie) in Nettuno, where the martyr of purity is affectionately called “Marietta” by her devotees.
Marietta is invoked, in particular, by mothers for the purity of their children but also by all those, who deeply understand the attacks on innocence and purity today.
Indeed, we must beg for the help of the saints of purity, like Maria Goretti, for all who engage in sins of passion and for all those who suffer as a result: children not allowed to be born, children denied a mother or a father or torn between their parents’ new families, children bought and sold to satisfy the desires of adults, and all those betrayed and neglected in their intimate family bonds. We must have confidence that if a violent murderer could have been converted, our whole culture may yet be recovered.
In his spiritual testament, Alessandro Serenelli reveals that his sin was the consequence of similar social influences to those our youth is immersed in today, and yet testified how the girl he had killed had already understood the whole counter-cultural meaning of Christian life. 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 behaviour 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 embrace 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 is rather the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.”
Saint Maria Goretti teaches us especially that the purity of heart, mind and body go together with the purity of faith. Willing to give up hours of sleep to be able to attend Sunday Mass in Campomorto, several kilometres away from her home, and never failing in the recitation of the Rosary, she was a living testimony of the “pure of heart”, the faith and innocence attacked even more violently today than the stabs she received in her flesh.
And as the attacks on purity, modesty and chastity continue on virtually every level of individual and social life, whilst our “culture” and “civilisation” has enthroned everything antithetical to purity, let us turn to Saint Maria Goretti, a child and powerful intercessor to strengthen us in the ageless truth: purity is the sure and glorious zeal for our life in eternity, even if it is lost to the world.
Cristina Siccardi, “Santa Maria Goretti, l’antitesi del femminismo”, Corrispondenza Romana, 4 July, 2018.
Cristina Siccardi, “Il messaggio al nostro tempo di santa Maria Goretti”, Corrispondenza Romana, 7 July, 2021.
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, “The Importance of Chastity”, TFP.org, 10 April 2003.