‘A hundred years ago, on 6 July 1902, Maria Goretti died in the hospital at Nettuno, brutally stabbed the day before in the little village of Le Ferriere, in the Pontine Marshes. Her spiritual life, the strength of her faith, her ability to forgive her murderer have placed her among the best-loved saints of the 20th century.
St Maria Goretti was a girl whom God’s Spirit endowed with the courage to stay faithful to her Christian vocation even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of her life. Her tender age, her lack of education and the poverty of the environment in which she lived did not prevent grace from working its miracles in her. Indeed, it was precisely in these conditions that God’s special love for the lowly appeared. We are reminded of the words with which Jesus blesses the heavenly Father for revealing himself to children and the simple, rather than to the wise and learned of the world (cf. Mt 11,25).
It was rightly observed that St Maria Goretti’s martyrdom heralded what was to be known as the century of martyrs. It was in this perspective that at the end of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I stressed that “this lively sense of repentance... has not prevented us from giving glory to the Lord for what he has done in every century, and in particular during the century which we have just left behind, by granting his Church a great host of saints and martyrs” (Novo Millennio ineunte, 7).
In the homily for her canonisation, Pope Pius XII of venerable memory pointed to Maria Goretti as “the sweet little martyr of purity”, because she did not break God's commandment in spite of being threatened by death.
What a shining example for young people! The non-committal mindset of much of our society and culture today sometimes has a struggle to understand the beauty and value of chastity. A high and noble perception of dignity, her own and that of others emerges from the behaviour of this young saint, was mirrored in her daily choices, giving them the fulness of human meaning. Is not there a very timely lesson in this? In a culture that idolises the physical aspect of the relations between a man and a woman, the Church continues to defend and to champion the value of sexuality as a factor that involves every aspect of the person and must therefore be lived with an interior attitude of freedom and reciprocal respect, in the light of God’s original plan. With this outlook, a person discovers he or she is being given a gift and is called, in turn, to be a gift to the other.
It cannot be denied that today the threats to the unity and stability of the family are many. However, at the same time there is a renewed awareness of the child's right to be raised in love, protected from every kind of danger and educated so as to be able to set out in life with confidence and fortitude.
Those who were acquainted with little Maria said on the day of her funeral: “A saint has died!”. The devotion to her has continued to spread on every continent, giving rise to admiration and a thirst for God everywhere. In Maria Goretti shines out the radical choice of the Gospel, unhindered, indeed strengthened by the inevitable sacrifice that faithful adherence to Christ demands'.
from a message to the Bishop of Albano on the centenary of the death of St Maria Goretti, 6 July 2002
by Pope St John Paul II, 1920-2005
O God, the author of innocence and lover of chastity, who didst bestow the the grace of martyrdom on thy handmaid, the Virgin Saint Maria Goretti, in her youth: grant, we pray, through her intercession; that, as thou gavest her a crown for her steadfastness, so we too may be firm in obeying thy commandments; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon