“Maria Goretti was close to her 12th birthday when she was stabbed to death by 20-year old Alessandro Serenelli, a farmworker who shared a dwelling with her family. Alessandro attacked the young girl when she resisted his efforts to sexually assault her. Maria initially survived the horrific wounds to her body and was transported to a hospital, where doctors were able to do little for her. During the painful 20 hours leading to her death on July 6, 1902, Maria prayed with her mother, siblings, and priest, stating repeatedly that she forgave her attacker and that she was sure that God had forgiven him, as well.
Alessandro was imprisoned immediately following his attack on Maria. Since he was a minor, he was sentenced to only 30 years hard labor. One night during the third year of his confinement, Maria appeared to Alessandro in his cell.
According to Alessandro, she was smiling and holding an armful of flowers— often identified as 14 lilies to symbolize the 14 wounds suffered by Maria—which she lovingly offered to the man who had taken her life. Alessandro described being enveloped in a wave of peace. From that moment on, he lived a life of goodness and grace during the remaining years of his prison term.
Alessandro was released from prison three years early due to his exemplary behavior. His first action as a free man was to visit Assunta Goretti, Maria’s mother, and beg her forgiveness. Said Assunta, “Maria has forgiven you, and surely God has forgiven you. Who am I to withhold my forgiveness?” That Christmas Eve, and each one thereafter, Alessandro attended midnight Mass with the Goretti family.
Although Maria and her mother had forgiven Alessandro, the local townspeople found it difficult to forget the terrible acts he had committed in his youth. He was rejected by several nearby communities, whose residents treated him as an outcast. He was offered safe lodging at a monastery belonging to the Capuchin Franciscan friars. He became a Third Order Franciscan and lived and worked the rest of his life on the friary grounds.
Along with 30 other witnesses, Alessandro testified to Maria’s sanctity during her cause of beatification. On June 24, 1950, Maria was canonized by Pope Pius XII at an outdoor ceremony in St. Peter’s Square attended by her mother, her siblings, and the man who had taken her life. Saint Maria Goretti is the only saint who has the distinction of having not only her mother but also her murderer at her canonization. More than 250,000 people were present at the event, which was the first canonization broadcast through news outlets.” Taken from Franciscan Media