By Chloe Langr, posted July 6, 2017, at: http://www.epicpew.com
On June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII stood before 500,000 people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for the canonization of a new saint, the youngest ever.
“Young people,” the Pope asked the crowd, “are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help and grace of God?”
“Yes!” echoed the response of thousands of young Catholics.
Despite the celebration and joy, sixty-six year old Alessandro Serenelli stood crying in the middle of the crowd. He may have stuck out in the crowd of young people promising, but he played a part in the life of the young woman whose canonization the Church was celebrating.
He had murdered St. Maria Goretti in 1902. (See yesterday’s Emailmeditation, #1985)
On a hot day in July, Maria was home watching her little sister Teresa and repairing one of Alessandro’s shirts. Their families lived in the same house as poor Italian tenant farmers. Alessandro returned from threshing beans and attempted to rape Maria.
Maria fought back, telling Alessandro that what he wanted to do with her was a mortal sin, and she didn’t want his soul to go to Hell. “No! It is a sin!” she screamed. “God does not want it!”
He tried choking her, but when she said she would rather die than let him commit a mortal sin, he stabbed her fourteen times and ran away.
Maria lived for 24 more hours before dying at a local hospital. Before she entered into Heaven, she said she wanted Alessandro to join her in Heaven and she forgave him.
Alessandro couldn’t have cared less about Maria’s forgiveness. During the trial he was unrepentant, and admitted to attempting to rape Maria several times before killing her because of her refusal. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, escaping a life sentence only because he was a minor when he committed the crime.
For three years, Alessandro said nothing to the outside world from his prison cell. But when a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini visited him in jail, Alessandro told him of a strange dream he had. He was in a garden, and so was Maria. She handed him a bouquet of lilies, which burned his hands.
He woke up a changed man. He was released from prison 27 years after Maria’s death and his first visit was to Maria’s mother, Assunta. He begged her for forgiveness and she told him, “If my daughter can forgive you, who am I to withhold forgiveness?” The two went to Mass together the next day and received Holy Communion side by side at the altar rail.
Alessandro repented of the murder and later became a lay brother with the Capuchin Franciscans and worked in the monastery as a gardener. He died in 1970. In a written testimony, Alessandro reflected on his past and his encounter with Maria Goretti:
My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media, and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried. There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.”
In the early 1900s, pornographic photos were sold near the train stations. Pornography was readily available to Alessandro, and it twisted his ideas of the sexuality and chastity.
Although the Catholic Church has not opened a case for the canonization of Alessandro, his story of overcoming the effects of pornography is inspiring in today’s world. Our modern, hyper-sexualized culture encourages sexual immorality, yet Alessandro’s life stands as an example of the power of forgiveness and repentance.
This is the entire text of Alessandro’s testimony, found among his personal belongings after his death:
I am now almost 80 years old. I am close to the end of my days.
Looking back at my past, I recognize that in my early youth I followed a false road—an evil path that led to my ruin.
Through the content of printed magazines, immoral shows, and bad examples in the media, I saw the majority of the young people of my day following evil without even thinking twice. Unworried, I did the same thing.
There were faithful and practicing Christian believers around me, but I paid no attention to them. I was blinded by a brute impulse that pushed me down the wrong way of living.
At the age of 20, I committed a crime of passion, the memory of which still horrifies me today. Maria Goretti, now a saint, was my good angel whom God placed in my path to save me. Her words both of rebuke and forgiveness are still imprinted in my heart. She prayed for me, interceding for her killer. Thirty years in prison followed.
If I had not been a minor, in Italian law I would have been sentenced to life in prison. Nevertheless, I accepted the sentence I received as something I deserved.
Resigned, I atoned for my sin. Little Maria was truly my light, my protectress. With her help, I served those 27 years in prison well. When society accepted me back among its members, I tried to live honestly. With angelic charity, the sons of St. Francis, the minor Capuchins of the Marches, welcomed me among them not as a servant, but as a brother. I have lived with them for 24 years. Now I look serenely to the time in which I will be admitted to the vision of God, to embrace my dear ones once again, and to be close to my guardian angel, Maria Goretti, and her dear mother, Assunta.
May all who read this letter of mine desire to follow the blessed teaching of avoiding evil and following the good. May all believe with the faith of little children that religion with its precepts is not something one can do without. Rather, it is true comfort, and the only sure way in all of life’s circumstances—even in the most painful.
Peace and all good.
5 May 1961
Alessandro Serenelli (1882-1970)
Maria’s forgiveness of Alessandro was felt personally by him. He knew his salvation in Christ was due to her. In his words, “Maria’s forgiveness saved me.” Rather than living the rest of his life in self-hatred, he relished in the joy that comes from being forgiven. Even when he was over 80 years old, such as in this picture, his face radiated this joy.
I Timothy 1:12-16 — (The Apostle Paul wrote), I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.