Saint Maria Goretti
This week, on July 6, the Church celebrates the feast of one of its youngest canonized saints. Early in the twentieth century, Maria Goretti, an 11-year-old Italian girl, was stabbed to death by a man enraged because Maria resisted his attempt to rape her. Though she was stabbed 14 times, death didn’t come immediately and before she died she forgave her killer, telling a priest at her bedside that she pardoned him and wanted him to be with her in heaven. The brutal murder of the devout young girl gained widespread attention throughout Italy, and her burial place soon became a pilgrimage site for people captivated by the stories of her holiness. Though she died more than one hundred years ago – July 6, 1902 – the story of this extraordinary young saint continues to captivate. FORMED, in fact, has three programs about her.
First, be careful. Their titles are very similar. One of them, St. Maria Goretti, is a 30-minute audio intended for a younger audience. Because it can’t avoid telling how Maria died, parents would be wise to preview it before deciding to play it for their children. Next is Maria Goretti, a film made in Italy that focuses on the holiness of young Maria as well as the poverty that beset her family. However, it concludes rather abruptly, shortly after Maria’s death, leaving the audience with little awareness of the impact she had on the world she left. Without a doubt, the most complete portrait of Maria’s life, and veneration after her death, is contained in the third FORMED offering about her: Saint Maria Goretti. This captures Maria’s deep faith and best explains the enduring devotion to her. More than a half-million people attended her canonization in 1950 – so many that the ceremony had to take place in St. Peter’s Square, not St. Peter’s Basilica, marking the first time this had ever happened. “I have been forced by the piety of the whole world,” Pope Pius XII is reported to have told the huge gathering, “to leave the Basilica of St. Peter’s, which for the first time in its glorious history is hopelessly inadequate to contain this demonstration of faith.”