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Santa Maria Goretti – The Meaning of Her Sacrifice

  • Category(s): Religion Essays
  • Created on : 17 August 2015
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


Maria Goretti stands for the highest value of life on Earth – The joining of her very soul to Heaven herself.

1. History

This girl aged 11 years, a devout adherent of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was murdered by the man seeking to rape her in approximately 1902 in Roman Campagna of Italy near Rome. By all accounts she furiously resisted her assailant whilst invoking the Blessed Virgin herself to save her. Her Catholic prayers were answered even though her life was not saved.

Why do I say this? Because she was canonised by Pius XII on 24 June 1950 in Rome in that Holy Year and her heroic defence of her delicate childhood virginity will never be forgotten by Roman Catholics the world over. It is a supreme honour to canonise a lay Catholic for that layperson, and to do so for a young girl not yet 12 years, is quite without equal. Pius XII was taking this extreme action for the sake of the world, not just Catholics, as all the best Popes do.

He could have been pilloried and probably was for so elevating this reasoning child, and thereby acting inappropriately in the eyes of many Catholics and non-Catholics. This Pius did not err – Maria Goretti’s canonisation was justified, even demanded. He held up thereby the advance of those who seek to despoil our Church and young women themselves. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a young woman when she conceived by the Holy Spirit upon the declaration of the Archangel Gabriel.

I should mention Maria Goretti’s assailant acted with such brutality he killed her in a frenzy of stab wounds. There was nothing she could do to stop him save pray to “Santa Maria Madre di Dio”: a prayer every Italian well knows to this day – (Holy Mary Mother of God).

2. What was in the back of the mind of Pius XII in this extraordinary rare act of Papal canonisation of such an insignificant girl?

That is the essence – she had achieved nothing in the World and had no witnesses to her intelligent, heroic faith and holiness unlike Saint Therese of Lisieux and Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. She was canonised for one single barbarous event of which she was the victim leading to her terrible murder, on top of being ravaged by her attacker. We are talking about June 1950, five years after the end of WWII in 1945 with the Atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of that year and six million Jews gassed in the camps of the Nazi regime.

Pius XII was laying down the marker of Maria Goretti: - Protect the virginal essence in yourself be you man or woman, boy or girl. For some it will mean literal virginity, for others it will be the originality within that boy turned man or girl turned woman. This virginal territory within our souls will persist long after the man or woman loses his or her physical virgin’s status. The man or woman who dies a virgin will also carve out a much deeper symbolic virginity within their being in their mature years. We each imitate the other within reason and good judgement: This especial virginal essence I write of is highly prized and will never be surrendered willingly unlike the untouched bride or groom going in to marriage. Yes it is the ultimate prize and it is not a “glittering prize” in the worldly sense. This prize I speak of is our goal in mature life above all others. Everyone in their heart of hearts will nurse the ambition that aims to reach out for this prize to their dying day. The reward is eternal life itself for such persistence.

3. The real meaning of Pius XII and Santa Maria Goretti

Pius XII was a celibate Vicar of Christ in his mature years, canonising an eleven year old girl less than 50 years after Maria Goretti’s death by a cruel and calculated murder, and very little was known about this girl of such tender years when she was unlawfully killed or later. She had received her First Communion five weeks before. Such a turn of events was simply unheard of in Rome of 1950, indeed never before. Pius, by any chalk, was out of his depth, now and in that Holy Year, yet he was a powerfully discerning and driven Bishop of Rome. He knew his facts and that the character and ordeal of Goretti had been correctly recounted to him. He acted on the evidence of her appalling murder by a man convicted of that crime by an Italian Court of Criminal Jurisdiction.

His concern was not with the convict, but Maria herself and she a devout Roman Catholic. He was Holy Father in the halcyon years of traditional 1950’s Roman Catholicism and the supremacy of masculinity in the Catholic Church and society worldwide. This cherished male celibacy and formality should have taught Pius XII to leave Goretti to others on the Catholic feminine side, in her school and locality and family to uphold her name. No, Pius would not be intimidated by this Catholic churchmanship so alien to canonising an eleven year old unknown girl who died in the course of this rape at the hand of this attacker. Pius demanded insight into Maria Goretti and her character of himself.

Maria Goretti herself demanded in her time the preservation and continuation of her virginity, even before her own human life. Her murderer would have let her live, on condition she permitted his carnal knowledge and sexual violation of her person. That offer was not acceptable to Maria Goretti. Her sacrifice of her precious life sent out the signal to the world: Defend the best in yourself against all comers. Pius XII, her ultimate defender, said here is Maria Goretti and there has been none like her and there will be none to match her. Her extraordinary tenacity in defence of the most vital part of her femininity is the example for each one of us from 1950 onwards, to isolate what counts for us and defend it to the bitter end. Her childlike simplicity was the core of her example.

Even Goretti had to resign herself to a violent death despite her vigorous resistance. Thus it is resistance and defence coupled with resignation. That is the model that Pius XII taught. Unlikely candidate though he was to canonise Maria Goretti, he made the decision to canonise her himself, much earlier than precedent dictated and against accepted principle, such was the directness and strength of this canonisation: It was Pius XII to Maria Goretti by the grace of the Holy Trinity alone, who empowered him to so enact on 24 June 1950 in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. That is the ultimate overarching arm and truth of our Papacy as it was in 1950. Only Pius XII could perform that role as I describe it and it had to be in 1950. The manner of it was never repeated by his successors nor carried out before 1950, and unlikely ever again in my view: Santa Maria Goretti is a one off Saint and Martyr for Roman Catholicism.

4. Conclusion

Pius XII was a Pope who would have no truck with any form of weak willed thinking. He was presented with the opportunity to canonise Maria Goretti and grasped it. That chance would never come his way again: He showed great presence of mind and composure. Many doubted the wisdom of this canonisation and Pius knew this, but he would not be put off. We are talking about this Supreme Pontiff with the power to do enormous good or remain fallow. There is no doubt he made the correct choice. He decided to canonise Maria Goretti in the same Holy Year he declared the doctrine of the Glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in to Heaven, namely 1 November 1950.

The Virgin Mother has had an enormous following among Catholics for numerous Centuries thank God. That will persist. I write of Goretti so closely linked to this Mary mother of Jesus. Maria Goretti’s supporters would have vanished by now without this Pius XII canonisation of her in 1950. It all came down to this Holy Father. There was no widespread popular acclaim for this nonentity’s sanctity, save in part of Roman Campagna. Heaven as always was quiet. Pius XII single-handedly won the day on 24 June 1950 in St Peter’s.

This Pius struck hard and sure in his See of St Peter in the Vatican on this day of Goretti’s canonisation, to the core of her eternal soul in the unseen world to illuminate the truth of her ordeal and last moments of her life in this world. By this very startling act of his Papacy she was immortalised for the Catholic hierarchy, priests and nuns, lay Catholics and all listeners to his words of canonisation on Earth then and to come as well as in Heaven herself. You could almost say time stood still at this moment of Goretti’s canonisation, such was the solemn nature of the occasion, and the triumph of her undeniable heroism when so young.

In the moment of her anguish Maria Goretti had no protection of father or brother, and was defenceless against this marauder. Pius XII in this canonisation achieved his ultimate and greatest charitable action: High priest to a young Catholic girl. The Glorious Assumption teaching, of course, was up above this canonisation of Goretti in God’s eyes. Has this papal charitable conduct to Goretti ever been bettered in the history of our Church? In my view no, and I have my doubts any Pontiff will ever show that degree of charity in years to come: - Holy Father to man, woman or child. Charity is the greatest as St Paul teaches. Pius XII stepped into restore the essence of sanctity to this very young Catholic girl, who was practising her faith of Catholicism when her life was taken.

5. Afterword

It has been written Goretti’s killer was sentenced to a long prison term for this atrocious murder then became remorseful. Thus the wags have said what a good thing he was spared the Final Penalty. In point of fact that ultimate sentence may not unequivocally have been available to the Italian Court trying this murder case so grave in the very early 20th Century era. In this case I argue the Death Sentence was called for to properly punish this man of over 21 years for this appalling crime against an innocent and pure 11 year old girl. Anything less was insolence against her name, her Roman Catholicism and defiance against God’s Law as enshrined in our hearts in the ancient and revered Natural Law.

This killer’s remorse was faked and too late to save him from the eternal fire, so I argue. If his remorse had been genuine he would never have committed this diabolical act of sexual assault and homicide at all. Pius XII, that Bishop of Rome par excellence, brought clarity and justice to this case in 1950. I honestly believe the Pope Pius XII supports this case I articulate in this Afterword and this essay. The moral is clear: Whether you be high or low on life’s ladder, always defend the vulnerable, particularly among the fairer sex, over and above those who take such lives unlawfully.