In 1970 a Capuchin lay brother died in Macerata. Among his belongings was his testimony in which he said he had been saved by the forgiveness of a saint. The saint was Maria Goretti, canonised in 1950, and the lay brother, Alessandro Serenelli, was her murderer.
Serenelli was born in 1882 into a very dysfunctional family. When he was a baby his mother tried to drown him and for this she was confined to a mental institution where she eventually died. One of his brothers committed suicide and the other siblings scattered to escape their alcoholic father.
Alessandro stayed with his father who, in 1896, had entered into a sharecropping partnership with Luigi and Assunta Goretti, a hard working couple with six children. Working together the two families had a chance of making enough to live on. They shared the work and a house.
The Gorettis were a peace-loving and praying family; the Serenellis not so much. Then, in 1901, Luigi died of malaria. Assunta had to take over his farm labouring and the oldest Goretti girl, Maria, aged 10, took over all the running of the house and looking after the children.
Maria was a quiet, calm girl with a deep faith and trust in God. She worked hard, looked after her younger siblings and the only thing she seems to have asked for herself was to be able to make her First Communion. That was not as straightforward as it may seem but God provided for her and she did so in June 1901.
Very soon afterwards Alessandro began to sexually harass Maria. She couldn’t complain to anyone. She didn’t want to upset her mother because the family couldn’t leave the house. All she could do was try not to be alone with him. But a day came when she could not avoid him. Alessandro tried to rape her. She wasn’t even 12 years old and he was 20 but she was able to fight him off.
Furious he took a sharpened file and stabbed her over and over before going off to his room. When he realised she wasn’t dead he came back and stabbed her several more times. The file bent as it hit her spine.
Maria’s cries alerted people. She was taken to hospital where she couldn’t be given water because of the perforations in her stomach or anaesthetic because she was too weak. Her wounds were stitched without it.
Because of the customs of the time her mother was not allowed to be with her. She looked at Christ on the cross and joined her sufferings with his and her last words were of concern for Alessandro’s soul. She died on 6th July 1902, 3 months before her 12th birthday
Alessandro was arrested and spent 30 years in prison but, convinced of Maria’s forgiveness, he changed. When he was released he joined the Capuchins and lived happily with them for another 30 years.
No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning.
I Corinthians 1,27