St. Maria Goretti is the patroness of youth, young women, purity, and victims of rape. She was born into a poor family at Corinaldi, Italy in 1890, the third of six children. When she was nine her father died of malaria. Her family was too poor to pay for Masses in her father's memory. Every night Maria would recite the five Mysteries of the Rosary for the repose of her father's soul. She was pious and prayed often. She spent a difficult childhood assisting her mother in domestic duties. The family survived by working for a man named Giovanni Serenelli and his teenage son Alessandro.
In 1902, 20-year-old Alessandro began ordering 11-year-old Maria to perform difficult chores, none of which could be completed to his satisfaction. Alessandro also began making advances on Maria. She refused, he grabbed her, and demanded that she submit to him, but she told him that God did not wish it and it would be a sin. Angrily Alessandro stabbed her to death, with Maria preferring to die rather than be raped.
She survived for 20 hours in the hospital, undergoing surgery without anesthesia. Asked if she forgave her murderer, she replied, "Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him...and I want him to be with me in Paradise. May God forgive him" She died kissing the crucifix and holding a medal of Our Lady.
Alessandro was captured and sentenced to 30 years. He was unrepentant until he had a dream that he was in a garden. Maria was there and gave him flowers. When he woke, he repented of his crime and living a reformed life. When he was released after 27 years he went directly to Maria's mother to beg her forgiveness, which she gave him.
Alessandro was present at St. Peter's when she was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950 for her purity as a model for youth. She is called a martyr because she fought against Alessandro's attempts at sexual assault. The most important aspect of her story is her forgiveness of her attacker. Her concern for her enemy extended beyond her death.
From a homily at the canonization of Saint Maria Goretti by Pope Pius XII
"...It is well known how this young girl had to face a bitter struggle with no way to defend herself. Without warning a vicious stranger burst upon her, bent on raping her and destroying her childlike purity. In that moment of crisis she could have spoken to her Redeemer in the words of that classic, The Imitation of Christ: "Though tested and plagued by a host of misfortunes, I have no fear so long as your grace is with me. It is my strength, stronger than any adversary; it helps me and gives me guidance." With splendid courage she surrendered herself to God and his grace and so gave her life to protect her virginity.
"The life of this simple girl - I shall concern myself only with highlights--we can see as worthy of heaven. Even today people can look upon it with admiration and respect. Parents can learn from her story how to raise their God-given children in virtue, courage and holiness; they can learn to train them in the Catholic faith so that, when put to the test, God's grace will support them and they will come through undefeated, unscathed and untarnished.
"From Maria's story carefree children and young people with their zest for life can learn not to be led astray by attractive pleasures which are not only ephemeral and empty but also sinful. Instead they can fix their sights on achieving Christian moral perfection, however difficult and hazardous that course may prove. With determination and God's help all of us can attain that goal by persistent effort and prayer.
"Not all of us are expected to die a martyr's death, but we are all called to the pursuit of Christian virtue. This demands strength of character though it may not match that of this innocent girl. Still, a constant, persistent and relentless effort is asked of us right up to the moment of our death. This may be conceived as a slow steady martyrdom which Christ urged upon us when he said: The kingdom of heaven is set upon and laid waste by violent forces.
"So let us all, with God's grace, strive to reach the goal that the example of the virgin martyr, Saint Maria Goretti, sets before us. Through her prayers to the Redeemer may all of us, each in his own way, joyfully try to follow the inspiring example of Maria Goretti who now enjoys eternal happiness in heaven......"