The Church’s saints and martyrs are prime examples of mercy. They inspire us to allow this quality of mercy to grow in our hearts.
On 5 July, 1902, Maria Goretti, a 12-year-old girl was at home alone sewing in the family house near Ancona.
Alessandro Serenelli, who had lusted after her for some time, saw his opportunity.
He entered the house and tried to force himself upon her. He was intending to rape her, but she resisted furiously.
She insisted she would rather die than submit to him. He stabbed her mercilessly 11 times.
The injured girl tried to reach for the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.
Taken to hospital she lay dying. When the parish priest brought her Viaticum, he asked whether she forgave Alessandro and she replied: “Yes, I forgive him and I want him to be in Paradise with me some day.”
Alessandro was arrested, tried and sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment. Unrepentant, he showed no remorse for his awful crime.
However, during his eighth year of incarceration he had a dream, which was so real and vivid that it shaped the rest of his life.
He saw Maria radiant in pure white walking among flowers, smiling and without fear.
He wanted to flee but he could not. She picked white lilies and handed them to Alessandro.
He received them one by one, 14 of them.
As he received them from her fingers the lilies changed into flaming lights. Each of the lilies turned into a purifying flame for every one of the 14 mortal blows he struck her on that fatal day.
Maria said smilingly: “Alessandro, as I have promised, your soul shall someday reach me in heaven.”
After 27 years in prison Alessandro was released, three years early for good behaviour.
He visited Maria’s mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She placed her hands on his head, caressed his face and gently said: “Alessandro, Marietta forgave you, Christ has forgiven you, and why should I not also forgive. I forgive you, of course, my son! Why have I not seen you sooner? Your evil days are past, and to me, you are a long-suffering son.”
The next day Assunta Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli knelt at the altar rail together and raised their mouths to receive the body and blood of Jesus.
Alessandro (pictured at left working as a Capuchin lay brother) lived out his days in prayer and penance at a Capuchin monastery at Macerata until he died in 1970 at the age of 89 years. In 1950 Maria Goretti was canonised in St Peter’s Square in Rome.