If Maria Goretti's life story were entitled Achieving Success For Your Child (guaranteed to produce results in one easy lesson), it would be read and re-read and passed on to others. Whatever diet was prescribed, whatever training schedule was proposed, whatever extracurricular lessons were necessary, no sacrifice would be considered too great to achieve such a desired end. And if that success were measured by wordily acclaim and, before reaching its teens, the child drew a crowd of thousands, the method would be a best-seller! Think of the pride of the parents witnessing the fruit of their labors!
Only fifty years ago one mother saw the results of her training hailed by a crowd of 500,000, in Saint Peter's Square in Rome. Assunta Goretti was the first mother in history to be present at her child's canonization and saw her offspring receive the highest honors the Church can offer. When Assunta was asked the secret of her successful parenting methods, this mother replied simply, "I taught her the fear of God and God did all the rest."
Who were the parents of this child? The parish priest, Monsignor Signori, described Luigi and Assunta Goretti as "poor people, but God fearing." Both mother and father were poor laborers and did not have time to go to school; therefore neither of them could read or write. Maria's father, Luigi Goretti, was born December 26, 1859, of peasant stock from the part of Italy called "The Marshes." In this region is the famous shrine of Loretto, where the Holy House of Nazareth is venerated. It was the center of devotion for all the local peasants, and Luigi was no exception. He has not only served his Faith, but his country as well, as he gave three years of military service. Though he became well acquainted with the ways of the world, he chose to return to his "lovely Corinaldo" and take up the simple, prayerful life of a farmer again. At 26 he married Assunta Carlini.
Assunta was poorer than Luigi. She had been orphaned at the age of ten and had managed to survive by trading her manual work on neighbors' farms for room and board. Until she met Luigi she did not think she would marry, for her standards were high and none of the other villagers met them. However, Luigi fit the stiff requirements and she was married at the age of nineteen on Feb. 5, 1885. Years later, when asked if it had been "love a first sight." Assunta replied emphatically, "At first and last!"
Assunta and her husband were poor, but accepting of their lot in life as from the hands of God. Due to this resignation, God blessed their dwelling with peace, with each spouse respectful of the other. Morning and night prayers were said together. The couple truly focused on personally living as the role models for their children who were brought up to imitate the example of their parents. Assunta tells us, "We tried to live as good Christians in the holy fear of God, and these were in the same principles by which we tried to bring up our offspring. . . " The blessing of children began the following year with the arrival of Antonino, the first of their seven. Sadly though, he was also the first claimed for Heaven, dying in his heartbroken mother's arms at the age of eight months. Two years later a second son, Angelo, was born. By this time, the hardworking couple moved from their dwelling which they had shared with other families to a place of their own.
In 1890, the sixteenth day of October, the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary, Assunta gave birth to a girl she named Maria Teresa. She was baptized the very next day at Saint Peter's parish church in Corinaldo. Her godmother was a cousin of Luigi, Pasqualina Goretti.
Assunta taught her children to say the names of Jesus and Mary as soon as they began to speak, and when they were a little older, the children were also taught to make the Sign of the Cross. Next of course were the basic prayers: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles' Creed. An important part of the day was the Rosary. This family prayer was always said before a special picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel, which had been given to Luigi and Assunta on their wedding day by Capuchin Fathers in Corinaldo. It remained in the family throughout their several moves and was very dear to Maria.
Marietta, (the affectionate name for Maria), especially benefited from the catechism taught her by Assunta as she became in turn the proficient teacher of her younger brothers and sisters. The Goretti family never ever considered the idea of exempting themselves from attending Sunday Mass, though it meant a seven mile hike. Maria would make the journey enjoyable by telling her younger brothers and sisters stories which she had been taught about the saints or from Scripture.
It was evident that Assunta took her duty as a mother seriously. She realized that a mother's vocation is not only to provide for the material needs of her children but, more importantly, provide for their spiritual growth. Assunta did not want her little ones to grow up as "little animals," as she put it, but taught them to love God by knowing Him through the catechism and serving Him by fulfilling their Christian obligations. If only parents today would follow this routine of essential family catechizing! What powerful spiritual weapons would be given to the young wherewith they would be able to brave the temptations of the world!
This early childhood training was taking a firm root in the soul of Maria. Her life of prayer and obedience blossomed into a special devotion to the Mother of God, aided surely by the fact that Assunta had consecrated Mariettina to Our Lady when she was only one day old. Her mother reflected that it seemed that the Rosary had actually become a necessity to the little one. Mariettina was known to always hold the Rosary in her hand, twisting it around her wrist as if it were a very valuable adornment. She loved to roam over the fields and pick flowers with which to adorn the pictures of the Blessed Virgin. She was genuinely a child of Mary.
Though she seemed gentle and girlish for her age, she was actually developing a very forceful character. Perhaps the secret to her later strong, spiritual conviction was that she and her brother received the sacrament of Confirmation at the young age of six. Her mother's childhood friend, Teresa Cimarelli, was Maria's sponsor. In order to prepare them more fittingly for the reception of the Holy Spirit, her mother requested that they also be permitted to make their first Confession. The favor was granted, and after receiving the sacraments Marietta's spiritual life began to crystallize, and her soul's many beautiful facets began to be more and more manifest.
It was at this time that it became apparent their little farm would no longer support their growing family and the Gorettis would have to leave their beloved homeland of Corinaldo. In 1896, several families, including the Gorettis, Cimarellis and the Serenellis moved from the eastern coast of the Italian peninsula to Colle Gianturco, about fifty miles outside of Rome. The families were relocating in order to farm a large plot of land belonging to the Sicilian Senator Scelzi. The families were informed that there were plenty of job opportunities available, and since their needs were great, the offer was readily accepted.
During his second year, Maria's father, Luigi, and Giovanni Serenelli became partners as share-croppers. This partnership was a cause of sorrow from the very beginning. After four months , all lost their jobs because of the Serenellis, who would not keep to the contract. For this reason the families had to leave Colle Gianturco and go to Ferriere di Conca about ten kilometers from Nettuno. There they were able to work a large piece of property owned by Count Attilio Mazzoleni. The Gorettis lived in the farmhouse with the Serenelli family, next to where the Cimarelli family lodged. The two families divided the house into equal parts and both shared the kitchen. The Gorettis managed the household as the Serenellis had no women in the family. Living in these close quarters was not the most ideal situation for rearing young children.
The new dwelling was located in the infamous Pontine Marshes, a haven for mosquitos, with 2,000 miles of pestilential, undrained land known throughout history for malaria. Luigi spent the sultry days of the first summer digging ditches to drain the eight acres of land on which to sow wheat and barley. He began to experience attacks of fever and bronchial trouble, but continued work throughout the winter, hauling rocks from a nearby quarry for road construction. Luigi was not a man to easily get down.
Malaria was rampant in the area that the land owner kept several coffins ready to take care of the frequent deaths. Luigi felt a presentiment of his impending death and had even prophesied that one of the coffins would be for him. All too soon these words were proven true. Despite his robust appearance, his health had been weakened by his previous illness and he finally succumbed to the dreaded disease.
Treatments were administered, but proved ineffective. By the end of April, Luigi was bedridden not only with malaria, but with pneumonia and meningitis as well. Maria proved her devotion to her father by keeping the children quiet, and running for food and medicine. She prayed fervently to the Blessed Virgin to cure her sick father, her dear "Babbo." Maria took her father's position in gathering the children to say the family Rosary while Assunta finished preparing dinner. Her father did not improve and the sand in his hourglass was down to a few grains.
On May 6, 1900, after receiving the Last Rites, Luigi Goretti passed form this vale of tears to his eternal reward. His mortal remains were placed in one of Maezzoleni's coffins and taken to the cemetery in the farm cart, pulled by oxen driven by Alessandro Serenelli, the future murderer of Maria. Marietta and her family followed close behind in the footsteps of this strong young man, now guiding her father's body on the way to its resting place. These feet of Alessandro would soon advance toward Maria with the most vicious of intentions.
Devotion to her father did not cease with his death, for Maria never passed the cemetery without kneeling outside its locked gates, looking toward her Babbo's grave and praying for him. The Goretti family was too poor to have Masses said for the repose of his soul, but the Rosary was offered by the family every evening. Afterwards, Marietta would recite another one for her father, dutifully feeling the need of prayerful intercession for his soul. She remembered her catechism teaching which said that the souls in purgatory are totally dependent on the prayers of those still on earth. Her father's soul assuredly benefited from his living daughter's many fervent prayers.
Why were Luigi's dying words to Assunta to "return to Corinaldo"? Did he sense that something was wrong? How different life would have been if Assunta could have fulfilled his command! But his 35-year-old widow with six children under the age of twelve, and with many debts, could not be released from partnership with the Serenellis. The poor widow was in difficult circumstances.
After Luigi's death, Mr. Serenelli took advantage of Assunta. The first harvest after Luigi's death was good: 30,000 pounds of wheat and 9,000 pounds of beans, and yet there was nothing left for the Gorettis, except more debt, due to the Serenellis dishonest report to the landlord. Consequently, the Goretti children were even deprived of bread, and were not permitted to partake of the food which the Serenellis locked in the warehouse. Eggs were in plenty, but these too were whisked away and sold. Assunta was forced to appeal to landlord for justice.
Maria's childhood ended with her father's death. When Assunta had to work in the field, Maria took over her mother's place in the home, and was her mother's strength and consolation. This nine-year-old not only cared for her own family's needs, but also for those of the Serenellis, cleaning the house and even washing the clothes. Her mother at times was quite exhausted from her labors and would often lose her temper with Maria for no reason. Not only would Maria not make excuses, she would even take the blame for what her younger brothers and sisters had done. Her brothers and sisters: Angelo, 12, Mariano, 7, Alessandro, 5, Ersilia, 2 and the baby Teresa, born three months before her father's death, regarded Maria as a second mother. When scolded by Assunta, the children would run to Maria for protection - so much so that even after Maria's death they called to her in their illnesses and troubles. Maria truly had taken on a woman's cares. This second mother in the house had not time for friends. She didn't seem to mind though, for she noticed that many children whom she knew often spoke in a way that she did not like to hear.
Sometimes Assunta's burdens and trials found relief only in tears, and Maria would attempt to cheer her by assuring her mother that God would provide and care for them. "Now, Mama, we'll soon be grown up and you'll see how we will help you!" Maria continued her endearing words until she saw her mother smile.
While most children only stir in their sleep, Maria would often get up to pray. When morning arrived she would then wake the other children whom she dressed and fed after leading them in their prayers. She kept them occupied while she cooked, washed, mended - beside caring for the doves and pigeons. She had the noonday meal ready when the workers came in from the fields. In the evening she would tell her mother to relax while she put supper on the table, making sure her mother was served first and herself last. Often the meal just couldn't be stretched enough and Maria would do without food by excusing herself as being smaller than the rest and not needing much to eat. Marietta's sanctity was found here, amidst pots, pans, grease, dirt and diapers, one biographer of her's stated. Had she not died the death of a martyr of purity, she still was well on her way to sanctity merely by her daily life. Her martyrdom was the culmination of a life of sacrifice. The strength she received for her final triumph, preserving her chastity, was only possible because she had said "NO" to herself in the smaller things in life.
There were occasions where Maria would work by her mother's side in the fields, as when it was time to do the haying. She was a great help to Assunta who was deathly afraid of the snake. Every time they were encountered in the high grass Maria would come to her mother's aid by announcing her fearlessness of the creatures. Several times she even killed the snakes which boldly lingered on the path. Her bravery with these symbolically evil creatures seemed to foreshadow the fortitude of Maria when the serpent of impurity would later attempt to poison the purity of her angelic soul.
Maria was not confined to house and field, but would frequently go on foot to town with Teresa Cimarelli, her family's dear friend and her Confirmation sponsor, to sell their produce and make their necessary purchases. Many would remark how lovely she was: so quiet and modest, with the doves in her hands patiently awaiting a buyer. A storekeeper, from whose store Maria had made her purchases for three years, recalled her impression of the little one as always serious and a person of few words. Even Alessandro Serenelli admitted that she was never light-headed or talkative like other little girls. Frequently the storekeeper would give Maria a little treat, such as an apple, a cookie, or piece of candy. She would always thank her graciously and put it away in her apron pocket to take home as a reward for a little brother or sister, having some herself only if any remained. Although Maria enjoyed trips to town, she seemed as though she just could not stay far from home, and quickened her pace to return, greeting passersby respectfully. What a study in contrasts when one considers the young girls encountered in shopping malls today!
The natural consequence of the fear of God taught her by her mother was a humble, trusting, constant communing with God in prayer. No one knew better than Maria herself how much she needed God's grace and her heart longed for closer union with Him. She asked her mother repeatedly, when she could receive Jesus in Holy Communion. This caused her mother much grief, since the Church laws at the time did not ordinarily permit children Maria's age to receive Communion. These laws however could be waived if the local pastor felt a child was exceptional and had reached what was called "the age of discretion." Assunta didn't know why, but she felt a strong urge to due her utmost to prepare Maria for her First Communion. (Another ten years would elapse before Pope Saint Pius X would issue the encyclical Quam singulari; allowing children to their First Holy Communion at the age of reason.) Assunta's first concern was that Maria was not sufficiently versed in her catechism. Her daughter overcame that objection by suggesting that a certain Elvira Schiassi in the town of Cibca had offered to teach catechism privately to children who were unable to read. But, her mother countered, when could she be spared? Maria promised her mother she would have all the work done by evening so that when Assunta came home Maria could leave. Her mother finally agreed and for the next 11 months Maria walked 3 kilometers to Conca and 3 kilometers back every evening. On Sundays a Father Alfredo Paliano taught the children after Mass.
Because Assunta felt she she had not done enough for her daughter's preparation, she finally confided her concern to the Arch priest of Nettuno, who examined Maria himself. He was entirely satisfied with her answers and assured Assunta, "Be at ease, good mother. Your daughter is very well prepared. Put away all your vain fears and confide her to Mary Immaculate. Place her under the Virgin's protecting mantle and have no fear." Again it seemed that Our Lady had a motherly hand in the careful nurturing of this special flower. Maria's preparation was completed by making a retreat given for the First Communicant by a Passionist Priest. The priest spoke much about Out Lord's suffering's and Maria was much impressed. She recounted the priest's words to her mother: "When we commit sin we renew that passion." The tone of voice on which she spoke made it clear that she had firmly resolved to avoid sin at any cost.
The Sunday within that Octave of Corpus Christi was Maria's happiest of days. Her mother's second objection to Maria's First Communion- not having the means to dress her as would befit the occasion - had vanished as the neighbors vied with one another in adorning this child beloved by all. One gave a veil, another shoes, another a candle and wreath of flowers. Her mother said, "I saw her dress and gave her the little earrings I am now wearing." The dress was wine-colored with little white dots - symbolic perhaps of the blood she would spill for preservation of her purity.
After having asked pardon of Almighty God in the Sacrament of Penance, Maria formally asked pardon of all at home, including Alessandro Serenelli and his father who were the cause of so much grief to the Goretti family. Maria's older brother Angelo, 14 was also one of the class of two boys and thirteen girls who received their First Communion in the Church of the Annunciation, June 16, 1902. The sermon given to these boys and girls, ranging in age from 11 to 14, was on the virtue of purity. The priest recommended to them the practice of offering 3 Hail Mary's every evening in honor of Mary Immaculate and exhorted them to die rather than commit a mortal sin.
After receiving Our Lord, Maria distinguished herself by her piety and recollection. At her mother's suggestions, she offered up her First Holy Communion for her father. When she returned home, her face shone with joy at having made her First Communion, and the thought of receiving again soon.
On the way home from church, Maria said to her mother, "Mama, I will die rather than commit a mortal sin." Within a month, she would show these words were more than an emotional out burst of pious fervor.
Shortly after this greatest of days, Maria was on her way to the well to draw water. While waiting her turn she overheard some girls using very unbecoming language with some boys. What grieved her the most was that the girls had been in her First Communion class. When she repeated the conversation to her mother that such words must go in one ear and out the other, that repeating such conversation would make her just as guilty, and to never take part in them. Maria responded, "Mama, I would rather die." She kept away from bad companions, especially certain little girls of a nearby family who didn't act properly. When she went to draw water from the fountain she would hurry in order to avoid talking to those children who were in the habit of talking vulgarly. It was obvious that Marietta had a sincere commitment to purity.
Although only eleven years old Maria Goretti was mature for her age. She was about 5 feet 4 inches, with light chestnut colored hair and eyes. Her complexion was somewhat dark with the tanned skin of farming people. She never let her beautiful loose hair become an occasion of vanity, for she nearly always hid it beneath a simple black shawl, without frills or ornaments. She was attractive in appearance and manners, efficient, intelligent, serious, but lively, and her modest bearing was more that of a woman than a child. She dressed simply and decently even in summer, and contented herself with any dress made by her mother or given by a neighbor. She possessed a chaste beauty that inspired respect.
Maria has aptly been called the "Lily of the Marshes." This pure holy girl was growing up in the company of a sordid, impure character, Alessandro Serenelli. Just as the land of Pontine Marshes itself was not bad - only that it allowed the waters to stagnate - so, too, Alessandro, though not by nature bad, allowed his mind and heart to stagnate in the mire of impurity.
The character of Maria's assailant, Alessandro, known to us through an interview he had with a Passionate priest at the time of Maria's Beatification. He was born in Paterno di Ancona, on June 2, 1882, confirmed about 1889. and was the youngest of eight children. He made his First Communion in 1891. One of his brothers had even entered the seminary to study for the priesthood, but an incident occurred which affected his mind and caused him to be institutionalized. The shock of this affected his mother's mind also, and she tried to drown Alessandro in the well, but he was saved by another brother. When asked what she was doing, she responded crying out with a horrid laugh, that it was better for the little boy to die at that moment than to live and suffer. The woman had been obviously affected mentally and was locked up also. Alessandro affirmed that he loved his mother, maintaining that she was a good mother and that he missed her terribly. His education had been just enough to teach him to read and write a little. He started work to earn money, and felt the call of the sea, which he loved very much. It satisfied his yearning for liberty in the wide open spaces. He got a job on a fishing smack, and made some friends. In such surroundings it was not easy for him to keep his purity. He developed evil habits and declined morally and spiritually.
Alessandro testified that although he forgot God, God never forgot him. "Once the boat that I should have sailed on ran into a storm and the boy who took my place never returned. Later I joined my father and with another brother we moved to Colle where we met and worked with the Gorettis." At this time he was twenty years old. Alessandro was not intrinsically evil, and did not indulge in drinking, went to the Sacraments, attended Mass on every feast day, and assisted at the family Rosary. Assunta claimed that he treated her and the rest of her family respectfully.
Monotony set in and the desolation of the Marshes caused him to become introverted. Alessandro admitted that vain dreams and longings took possession of him and began to seek escape in reading, locking himself in his room. Shortly afterwards, he said, "The awful crime took form in my mind. I fought it for months. Maria was so good, so sweet and pure. I loathed myself, but hid my dark secret carefully. When I finally took the fatal step I expected an easy victory." Twice in vain he assailed Maria's virtue. At the second attempt, he added a threat to his solicitations, "Heaven help you if you repeat what I have said." Maria was not ignorant of Alessandro's desires, nor too young to understand that he wanted to take her chastity from her, so tried to escape his company. Alessandro himself recounts that she never gave him the least occasion for him to interpret consent in her actions. So well did he hide his evil plan of action that Assunta suspected nothing.
Then about a month prior to the murder, Alessandro began to act roughly toward Maria and seemed unsatisfied with any services which she rendered. Once Maria had just brought some water from the fountain. Alessandro drank some of it and then kicked the bucket over claiming that the water wasn't fresh, and demanding that she go back and get some more. Assunta feared to further irritate him and told Maria to do as he said. She quietly told her not to mind Alessandro because he would soon be off to become a soldier. Obediently Maria went to fetch the water. The change in the young man's behavior indicated something was very wrong, but no one recognized the warning signs.
Before her canonization, Church authorities had to determine whether Maria had indeed used the means before her to preserve her chastity. The catechism tells us:
"The chief means of preserving chastity are: to avoid carefully all unnecessary dangers, to seek God's help through prayer, frequent confession, Holy Communion, and assistance at Holy Mass, and to have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin."
Though she did not know the exact, memorized answer of the catechism, she knew the means better than many and, more importantly, she utilized them all. Her solid devotion to Our Lady has already been remarked upon. On that score Alessandro testified that during these weeks of temptation, "Maria stopped saying the Rosary only to work." Her appreciation of confession and communion as a means of preserving chastity is quite apparent in the account of the last day of her life.
It was just a few weeks after Maria's First Communion, Saturday, July 5. Maria had one thought on her mind as she went through her round of duties and voiced it several times to her mother and Teresa Cimarelli, and that was her desire to receive Holy Communion the next day. Since the priest at their parish church did not have faculties for confession, Maria intended to walk, in that dreadful heat, in order to go to confession before Mass. Little did she know she would most certainly go to Nettuno on the next day - and receive Our Lord - but under much different circumstances than she ever expected.
The work for the Saturday consisted of crushing the broad beans at the threshing floor. At noon all sat down for their frugal lunch. Afterwards, before everyone had left for the fields, Assunta overheard Alessandro order Maria to mend a shirt which he had left on his bed in his room. Because she did not reply, her mother told Maria to do as he said. Assunta was on her way to the fields and turned, noticing her daughter at the top of the landing of the house with Alessandro's mending. Maria also was watching the baby, Teresa, who was sleeping there on a quilt. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Not much time had gone by when Alessandro asked Assunta to get onto his cart, saying that he needed to go up into the house for a moment to do something. Assunta suspected nothing, and got onto the cart. Alessandro made his way towards the house and up the steps. All went according to his plan. Maria was alone; there was plenty of noise outside in the case she tried to call for help. Maria had foreseen the immediate danger and had quickly snatched up the shirt and sat outside on the top step in full view of the workers only 130 yards away. Her sleeping sister, Teresa, was still on a blanket at her side. Alessandro ran quickly up the stairs, past Maria, into the house. He arranged the kitchen, placing on a chest nearby the weapon he would use, a dagger with a ten inch blade which he himself had fashioned. He called her to come inside; she refused. He picked her up and brought her in, slammed the door and locked it behind him.
Maria knew this battle was to the death. She was afraid - not so much of him who could kill the body, but of the danger to the attacker's soul. She cried out those immortal words,
"What are you doing, Alessandro? It is a sin! God does not want it! You will go to Hell!"She fought with all her strength as he held her. Seeing that she was determined to resist him, hatred welled up in his heart and seized the weapon, and plunged it into her body fourteen times. Thinking that Maria was dead, Alessandro threw the dagger into the closet, went into his room, closed the door, and feigned sleep.
Assunta noticed something wrong as she passed in front of the house. She heard the baby Teresa shrieking desperately, indicating that Marietta was not there. She then quickly told her son, Mariano, to go and see where she was, and at the same time she, too, made slowly for the house. On her way she noticed that Mr. Cimarelli had been called away. It was then that Assunta began to fear something awful had taken place indoors. The Goretti boys and Assunta left the barnyard, rushed to the house, and saw Cimarelli carrying Maria in his arms; her head was resting on his shoulder and she appeared to be dead. Poor Assunta screamed but was told by Cimarelli to be quiet, that Marietta had hurt herself. Not even he realized what had actually happened. Assunta then noticed that Alessandro was missing, and began to suspect what had taken place. Marietta was ghastly white and was quickly laid on the bed. The gaping wounds were quite visible, with entrails exposed to view. Assunta cried out to God to save her daughter and collapsed to her knees, weeping.
Cimarelli succeeded in reviving Marietta, who had been unconscious all the time. "On hearing my daughter calling me, I freed myself from those who were holding me and ran to her." Assunta questioned her as to what had happened. She replied very clearly: "It was Alessandro. Do you see what Alessandro has done to me?" I asked her why he had done it, and she replied: "He wanted me to commit sin, and I would not."
Cimarelli hurried off, both to Nettuno and Carano to call a doctor and the police. Assistance came from Carano first, with Doctor Balive of the Red Cross, who did his best to bind up the wounds. Alessandro was then placed under arrest. Soon afterwards the police of Nettuno arrived with Doctor Bartoli, who brought an ambulance to take Maria to the hospital. The Cisterna police handed Alessandro over to those from Nettuno, who took him off handcuffed between them, only just saving him from the crowd which had gathered in front of the house absolutely intent on avenging the crime.
A little later the ambulance also set off for Nettuno, taking Assunta as well, so that she could accompany her daughter to the hospital. It was excruciatingly painful for Marietta, and when the ambulance jolted, she would groan quietly. Assunta asked her if she felt worse, but Maria weakly replied that she didn't. Only once did she ask her mother how long it would be before arriving. The little heroine was at the breaking point, but maintained her uncomplaining silence.
On the way, two members of the mounted police caught up with them. In between them they were trialing the handcuffed Alessandro.
Towards eight o'clock in the evening, the ambulance reached the hospital of the Brothers of Saint John of God at Nettuno. The crowd which had at first decided to lynch Alessandro, stood at the entrance of the hospital when the ambulance arrived, hoping to see Marietta. Four young men of Nettuno volunteered to carry Marietta from the ambulance to the hospital.
Several times the child asked for a drop of water, but she could have none since she had to undergo an operation. Even after the operation, she was still in no condition to take anything at all. Assunta felt this suffering of her daughter keenly and only the thought that the Crucified Jesus was likewise denied even a drop of water gave her strength.
Before undergoing surgery, the superior of the hospital came to Assunta recommending that Marietta make her confession. The poor mother was so thankful and replied, "If Our Lady has let her come this far alive, yes, hear her confession before doing anything else."
The operation lasted for nearly two hours, while Assunta remained outside the operation room. The chaplain came from time to time to encourage her. As soon as the operation was over, she went into Marietta's room and saw that her daughter was watching the door as the though she was expecting her. Marietta, on seeing her mother, at once pronounced her mother's name. Even in this condition Maria still thought of others and asked her mother how her brothers and sisters were, though begging her mother not to let the Serenellis in.
Assunta was not permitted to remain with Marietta because they feared that she would talk and really ought to have absolute silence. Permission to stay, however, was granted to Teresa Cimarelli and Marettina nodded in unhappy resignation saying, "Ah, well!" Assunta spent a night without sleep. She sought shelter in the ambulance which had brought them to the hospital. Because she had overheard some passerby say, "She's dead," Assunta cried out and fainted. After they revived her, and convinced her that they were not referring to her daughter, she calmed down somewhat. Through Teresa Cimarelli's intervention, the nurses let her go in before the appointed time, so that she would be able to see herself that Maria was still alive.
Assunta tried to comfort her daughter as best as she could. She noticed that Maria's eyes were often intent on a painting of Our Lady which was hanging on the wall. Teresa Cimarelli told Assunta afterwards that she heard Maria say several times with absolute clarity of mind, "Our Lady is waiting for me."
Twenty-seven years after Maria's death, when Church officials exhumed her body for examination, the blue ribbon of the Children of Mary was still hanging around her neck. Around the medal the words could still be clearly read, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." Those who were present at her enrollment testified to how happy she was, and how her eyes were shining with joy when the ribbon, which had so eagerly been longed for, was placed around her neck. How often, her mother had said, she had kissed that medal of the Blessed Virgin!
The parish priest, Father Signori, brought Holy Viaticum to Marietta in the morning and the priest asked her explicitly if she pardoned Alessandro out of love for Jesus. Without a moment's hesitation, Marietta replied, "Yes, so do I pardon him for love of Jesus, and I wish him to join me in Paradise." That these words were spoken without any hesitation was proved by the fact that to all those who later asked her about pardoning Alessandro, she promptly and firmly replied, "May God forgive him as I have already forgiven him!"
Her face lit up with exquisite joy when she received Our Lord for the last time. She had so longed to receive Holy Communion that day and her wish had become a reality, but under what conditions!
Before her death her mother had to question her once more about Alessandro, by order of the chief of police. When asked whether Alessandro had tempted her before, she answered that he had in fact done so twice before. Her mother inquired why she did not tell her so that she could have prevented such a terrible death, and Marietta said it was because she was too ashamed. "Besides, Alessandro swore that he would kill me if I told anyone about it; he has killed me just the same." When asked why she did not scream while he was beating her, she replied that as long as she screamed, he continued to beat her, but when she couldn't scream anymore he ceased his assault.
Assunta, knowing that there was little time remaining to the dying girl, begged her, "Mariettina pray for us. . . forgive everyone. . . prepare yourself for your Creator." Then her mother kissed her and Mariettina kissed her in return. The crucifix was placed on her lips, then the medal of Our Lady of the Children of Mary was given to her to kiss, which she succeeded in gripping tightly and holding to her lips. Once more she called her dead father; then she became delirious and relived the scene of her martyrdom. Again were heard the words she had uttered in her struggle, "What are you doing, Alessandro? Don't touch me or you'll go to Hell!" Just before she breathed her last, in a voice which was a little excited, she called, "Teresa!" although her mother was near her. It was obvious that Maria did not recognize her. One of the nurses approached her and, taking her hand, said to her, "Teresa isn't here." At that moment she calmly breathed her last. It was 3 o'clock on the 6th of July, 1902.
Death was caused by septic peritonitis, due to the intestinal wounds, which measured 4 1/2 inches long obliquely from right to left, together with hemorrhage caused by the numerous injuries from the struggle.
When Marietta died Assunta was made to leave and gazed upon her child for the last time. As the body lay in the white bed, her features pale from loss of blood, her long hair loose on the pillow, Assunta reflected that it reminded her of Saint Philomena. "One breathed the air of purity in that room," she wrote in her account. Assunta was not able to stay even for the funeral, for she had other children at home to care for.
Some readers may ask, while considering the mother's agony in seeing her daughter butchered, "Is this really what you call success?" Assunta Goretti thought it was. She knew her daughter had been true to her teachings and that she had the true Fear of the Lord which only dreads to offend Him. And the Catholic Church thought that her life was a success too, for Maria Goretti was beatified only 47 years after her death, on April 27, 1947.
Within a few days after her beatification two instantaneous cures happened in Rome through her intercession, showing that Almighty God thought Maria a success. After investigation and approval, Maria's final glorification took place on June 24, 1950, when she canonized by Pope Pius XII, before a crowd of half a million people from all over the world - and her mother. Assunta exclaimed, "I had the joy of accompanying my daughter from the cradle to the altar!"
On the night of Maria's death, Assunta Goretti went back to Fierriere and to her children at the Cimarelli's house where she remained until they moved permanently back to Corinaldo. To witness her daughter's glorification, she spent time in Rome, an honored guest of the Vatican. This valiant woman died at Corinaldo on October 8, 1954.
Alessandro Serenelli's story remains to be finished. We continue his own account:
The Regina Coeli prison left much to be desired. I suffered a lot but I was too proud to give in. Oh yes! I felt remorse for what I had done right from the start, but pride made me drop the mask of a hardened criminal over my face. . .
My path was a bitter one indeed. Early in 1903 I was passed to Noto in Sicily and there received my convict's stripes and became Number 3142. Solitary confinement lasted 3 years. I thought it would kill me. . . A man's thoughts under such circumstances are not good. . . Though Maria's dying words rang in my ears, "May God forgive him. I want him with me in Paradise," I drowned the voice of conscience with ribald song.
Then Maria appeared to me in a dream, gathering lilies and handing them to me. That broke me up badly, but my pride was still too strong. Many years were to pass before I fell to my knees and went to confession. . .
In 1929, I regained my liberty. . . I took refuge with the good (Capuchin) Fathers in the early thirties and have been here ever since. I say my Rosary with the Community every night and hear Mass every day. Some time ago, I joined the tertiaries. . .
The happiest day of my life since my fall was when I testified for Maria's Beatification. I know she is praying for me in Heaven. I'm an old man now and haven't much time to live, but God will be merciful to me, I know He will. Maria will see to that. . . if there are martyrs in Heaven, she is the first among them. . . with all that I have done to her!
Alessandro Serenelli died on May 6, 1969, calling the name, "Maria!" He had left a signed statement to youth:
"I ask pardon of the entire world for the crime I committed against the martyr Maria Goretti and against purity. I urge all of you to avoid immoral shows and all the dangerous occasions that can lead you to sin."
Two people who made their marks in history now stand before us; one the martyr, the other the martyr-maker, the saint and the penitent sinner. Both had suffered the loss of a parent at a young age. Both lived in the same environment, in fact under the same roof, yet how different the outcome of their lives! One gave completely of herself for love of God, the other demanded completely for himself in contempt of God. One died forgiving her assassin and other died calling on his victim in Heaven.
The mother of Maria Goretti is responsible for much of the sanctity of this young martyr. Assunta was a "valiant woman" who saw that those of her household were "clothed with double garments." She cared for the spiritual as well as the temporal well-being of her children.
(We are fortunate to have Assunta's own words for much of her daughter's biography, due to the interrogations before Maria's Beatification. For this article they were gleaned from two primary sources: The Martyr of le Ferriere by Father Maurus of Mary Immaculate, C.P., and Saint Maria Goretti by Her Mother, compiled by Rev. D. Luigi Novarese.)<< Previous chapter | << Back to Table of Contents