Today in the OF is the memoria of St Maria Goretti, she is one of the many child virgins the Church honours. Her mother was the first mother in recorded history to be present at her child's beatification and canonisation, which in the days before JPII is evidence of both the popular devotion and the speed of her process. What touches me most is the story of her murderer and his conversion.
The Church honours virginity in both its male and female saints, it isn't just a matter of "spiritual integrity" but physical integrity too, the two go together. There is a tendency to saccherinise such saints but St Maria had resisted Serenelli previously. She was the victim of child abuse, she resisted, her "no meant no". I cannot help thinking that one of the reasons for her popularity was that there was an undercurrent of sexual abuse within within Italy at the time.
St Jeanne Vianney at various times during the year rails against village dances; times when young people might find themselves alone together. Padre Pio takes the same stance, as do many Irish sermons of the early 20th century. Abuse, we know generally takes place within the family or extended family, I can't help wondering whether devotion to her was a rather discreet way of talking about sexual abuse.
I remember some years ago talking to a woman whose Polish mother had involved all her children in abusive sexual practices, she, a sociologist and counsellor, was convinced that in rural societies, especially isolated ones such practices were "normal". I don't know.
On July 5, 1902, finding eleven-year-old Maria sewing alone, Alessandro Serenelli came in and threatened her with death if she did not do as he said; he was intending to rape her. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal si and warning Alessandro that he would go to hell . She desperately fought to stop Alessandro, a 19-year-old farmhand, from abusing her. She kept screaming, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" Alessandro first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. The injured Maria tried to reach for the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away. Maria's little sister Teresa awoke with the noise and started crying, and when Serenelli's father and Maria's mother came to check on the little girl, they found the bleeding Maria and took her to the nearest hospital in Nettuno. She underwent surgery without anesthesia, but her injuries were beyond the doctors' help. Halfway through the surgery, Maria woke up. She insisted that it stay that way. The pharmacist of the hospital in which she died said to her, "Maria, think of me in Paradise." She looked at the old man: "Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first?" "You, Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," said Maria. The following day, twenty hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for her murderer and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, Maria died of her injuries, while looking at a very beautiful picture of the Blessed Mother, and clutching a cross to her chest.
Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after Maria's death. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life, but since he was a minor at that time the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. Serenelli wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, "in which Maria Goretti gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands." After his release, Alessandro Serenelli visited Maria's still-living mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed then she could not do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as "my little saint." He attended her canonization in 1950. Serenelli later became a laybrother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and gardener until death peacefully in 1970.