Saint Maria Goretti (1890-1902) was unusual at the time of her canonization and remains – as holiness always is – a sign of contradiction today.
She was canonized in 1950. Until the effort of Saint John Paul II to demonstrate the holiness found in our time through his efforts to canonize the saints – and many martyrs – of the 20th century, the sainthood was rarely recognized until centuries after the candidate’s candidacy. death. That Maria’s mother was present at her canonization 48 years after her death was hitherto unprecedented.
As for its relevance – and how it contradicts our times – later.
Married was born on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, a village in central-eastern Italy, one of seven children of farmers. In 1895 the family lost their farm, moving further to Rome to become what Americans might call sharecroppers, that is, farm laborers working for someone else. In 1899 they moved into a house with another family, the Serenellis, and Maria’s father died.
The mother and family continued as farm laborers. Maria often stayed home to watch the youngest child and take care of household responsibilities. On July 5, 1902, she was at home with Alessandro Serenelli, the 20-year-old son of the family with whom the Gorettis occupied the house. Serenelli threatened to attack her if she did not sexually submit to him. She refused, calling it a sin. He started to choke her, then stabbed her 14 times, injuring her upper body (throat, heart, lungs, diaphragm). She was taken to a regional hospital where doctors operated on her under anesthesia, but she died the next day. Before expiring, she declared that she had forgiven her attacker.
Serenelli was immediately arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Stubbornly unrepentant, he changed after three years and a visit from a local bishop, to whom he later confided that he had seen Maria in a dream, carrying lilies in her hand, flowers burning in his. He was released in 1929, returned to Maria’s mother to ask her forgiveness, became a carrier as a lay brother with the Capuchins and died in 1970.
When Pius XII canonized Maria, many young women attended the ceremony, which was also an opportunity to reaffirm the value of chastity in the lives of young people.
Although this motif was strong in the first decades after Maria’s canonization, it seems to have waned in some circles. This brings me to the question of how Maria remains a “sign of contradiction” although less than a century and a quarter separates us from this saint.
First, because she was the victim of assault following an attempted rape, some would like to diminish the sexual element. Maria has been a victim of violence, assault, crime — and a child victim at that! It’s true, and that goal is increasingly relevant these days as crime rates rise, especially in poorer neighborhoods.
But we cannot ignore the sexual motive that triggered this violence. Some ideologues would limit “sex” to consensual intercourse – Maria vehemently rejected Serenelli – and thus minimize the sexual in this attempted sexual assault. But it was not a random robbery or act of violence: even Serenelli writes that it was a “crime of passion” and therefore the sexual element should not be diminished. Indeed, given the scandalous escalation of crimes of sexual abuse against minors around the world and also vulnerable people (like seminarians) in the Church, Maria can very well be a patron of young victims of abuse. sexual (although perhaps a boy would be a more appropriate patron).
Second, our times have recognized that female victims of rape are often coerced into sexual submission against their will and – even though she was a young girl – Maria is a fitting patron for such people.
Third, Maria represents the vulnerabilities that the poor often endure, the crimes less common elsewhere, such as the gated communities of the privileged. Maria’s family was trying to survive as widows and orphans, and Serenelli lived under the same roof as them. The natural vulnerabilities of such situations imposed by poverty should not be overlooked and Maria is therefore also a suitable protector of young people living in poverty and difficult conditions.
Finally, Maria died defending her purity as a natural right and a supernatural duty. (That doesn’t take anything away from rape victims being forced into sexual submission.) Maria recognized that chastity was the normal calling of a Christian outside of marriage.
The question we need to ask ourselves is why does the loss of this sense of chastity affect many girls Maria’s age and older today?
For Maria, chastity was not just a “choice”, it was a duty. It was part of his relationship with God. We have no indication that Maria intended a religious life; her reaction was the normal response of a Catholic girl of her age and day: chastity is living the kind of life that God wants of me at this stage of life.
Sociologists and others can offer all sorts of explanations of “social development” and “prolonged adolescence” and “changing sexual mores” to explain our contemporary situation, but perhaps the question to ask Today’s Catholic tweens and teens is to know what Maria saw. so clearly that they don’t necessarily do it?
There is a suggestion that Serenelli could have used pornography. In his deathbed letter, he talks about his behavior “influenced by the print media, the mass media and the bad examples followed by the majority of young people without even thinking about it”. Maybe it was a 1970s way of indirectly talking about pornography. Given the proliferation of pornography, especially among young people, as well as the grooming introduced into schools under the guise of “sex education” and “knowledge of different ways of life”, Maria Goretti again remains a relevant saint. for today’s young people tempted by the same sources. this helped put his murderer on his “ruin”.
Today’s painting is by Italian artist Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini (died 1936). It depicts a young girl of Maria’s age. The dominant colors, except for his flowing locks of reddish-brown hair, are white (“the white robes of the Lamb” and white as the color of purity) and blue (a sign from heaven). I don’t have a date for the painting. However, among the other unusual things about today’s Saint Maria Goretti is that she already lived in the age of photography, you can compare her only surviving photograph with the work of the artist.