Assunta Goretti: The Mother of a Saint

Andrew Santos (7/6/20)

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  – Alexander Pope

In the face of such hatred that we have witnessed in recent weeks, it is hard not to be filled with despair. Although everything appears to be overcome by darkness, it is precisely in these moments that the examples of the saints shine all the brighter. 

Today we celebrate the life of the great martyr Saint Maria Goretti, an eleven year old Italian peasant girl who fought and died defending her virginity against an assault from her neighbor, Alessandro Serenelli. 

For those who are not familiar with the story and miracles attributed to St. Maria Goretti, I highly suggest researching this young model of holiness. Her life is particularly relevant, especially in our times of civil unrest. Although the story of St. Maria Goretti is one of profound courage and fortitude, I would like to turn our focus towards Maria’s mother, Assunta Goretti.

After Alessandro murdered young Maria, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, many of which he was unrepentant of the crime he committed. Alessandro, under the guidance of a local bishop, was able to recognize the error of his ways and was released three years early after he atoned for his crime and became a model prisoner. When Alessandro was released, he went to Assunta on Christmas Eve to seek forgiveness. 

It is hard to place ourselves in Assunta’s position, staring into the eyes of the man who killed her daughter – who ruined her life in one act of lust-filled rage. However, Assunta’s response stops humanity in its tracks. She responded: “If Maria forgives you, and God forgives you, how can I not also forgive you?” Not only did she forgive Alessandro, but she called him her son. She requested that they attend Midnight Mass together. There, they humbly received the Eucharist, kneeling side by side. Twenty-one years later, Assunta and Alessandro knelt again, this time in Rome, among a quarter of a million people with tears in their eyes as Maria was canonized a Saint.

In recent weeks, we have come face-to-face with brutality, anger, and hatred in their ugliest forms. Emotions run high in these difficult times. It is precisely in these moments that we must look to the examples of St. Maria and Assunta Goretti to bring us the hope that we long for. 

 As St. Maria did, we must fight for what is true and sacred in this world, even at the risk of others’ perceptions; at the risk of our own lives.  Assunta showed us that holding onto hatred not only causes pain in the lives of those we hate, but it brings discord and pain into our own lives. This cycle of hate has no life-giving qualities; it can only bring about more suffering. Forgiveness is the way we combat such evil, and our actions must be accompanied through prayer. 

Let this be our mission. 

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.

Assunta Goretti conversing with her adopted son, the man who murdered her daughter, Alessandro Serenelli. 

Andrew Santos lives in Rochester, NY with his wife Emily and their two sons, Dominic (28 months) and Damian (9 months). He has bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Theology from St. John’s University. He enjoys camping, hiking, reading Tolkien, and wrestling his sons.

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