On this day: St. Maria Goretti

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day we remember St. Maria Goretti, the eleven-year-old girl who was stabbed to death by nineteen-year-old Alessandro Serenelli as he attempted to rape her. She died of the fourteen stab wounds the next day, July 6, 1902.

Women of my generation grew up hearing about St. Maria Goretti, internalizing the message. In its issue of November 9, 1950, five months after her canonization, Treasure Chest presented parochial school children with "Saint Maria Goretti, The Blood-Stained Lily", by Mary Fabyan Windeatt. At the end, an American woman who has been listening to Assunta Goretti tell her daughter's story says, "Every boy and girl in America ought to hear it." Mrs. Goretti says, "Maybe you'll tell them when you back home? Tell them what a terrible thing sin is and that they should be ready to die rather than offend our Lord."

Does being raped "offend our Lord"?
Is it better to be killed than raped?
Should a girl or a woman fight a rapist to the death?
Should a boy or a man fight a rapist to the death?
If a victim is able to grab a weapon, is it acceptable to kill a rapist?
What do bishops and priests of today teach girls and women about rape?
What do bishops and priests teach boys and men about rape?
What do parents teach their children about rape?
What do those who are pro-life think of choosing death over the preservation of physical virginity?
Should there be a saint who chose life over the preservation of physical virginity?

Click here for today's Liturgy of the Hours. Notice in the Office of Readings the selection from a homily by Pope Pius XII at Maria Goretti's canonization. "Without warning a vicious stranger burst upon her, bent on raping her and destroying her childlike purity." But the would-be rapist was not a stranger, as the pope knew. The Serenellis lived in the same building with the Gorettis. "With splendid courage she surrendered herself to God and his grace and so gave her life to protect her virginity." Does a rape constitute loss of virginity in God's eyes?

Kathleen Z. Young discusses Pope Pius XII and his possible motives for the canonization in "The Imperishable Virginity of Saint Maria Goretti", in Violence Against Women: The Bloody Footprints, edited by Pauline B. Bart and Eileen Geil Moran, Sage Publications, 1992.

With great insight, Young describes the discrepancies in the story of St. Maria Goretti and analyzes the mixed messages it sends. "Virginity is viewed as a spiritual commitment more important than the young Catholic woman's life." Page 105.

Click here for the book at Amazon. The two pages missing from the chapter at Google Books are available in the sample provided on Amazon. Search term: Goretti.

Click here for the excellent Wikipedia article on St. Maria Goretti. Notice her miraculous interventions in her brothers' lives.

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