Monday, July 6, 2009

Maria Goretti's Killer, Alessandro Serenelli: Sometimes People Change

One hundred and seven years ago yesterday, on July 5, 1902, a young man tried to have sex with a younger woman. She didn't want to, but, instead of being 'sensible' by some contemporary standards, she resisted. Then he stabbed her 14 times.

It took Maria Goretti quite a few hours to die, so her feast day is today, July 6.

I skipped over a few details there.

Maria Goretti was beatified on April 27, 1947. Then, on June 24, 1950, Maria Goretti was canonized - and is now recognized as Saint Maria Goretti.

What's So Special About Saints?

The Catholic Church defines a "saint" as "The 'holy one' who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary) As I understand it, we don't know how many saints there are. The Church, after a rigorous examination of evidence canonizes these spiritual heavy hitters.
"By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.... (Catechism, 282)

Maria Goretti's a Saint: The Catholic Church Condemned Her Killer, Right?

Wrong. We don't work that way.

Christianity has had the odd habit of forgiving unlikely people, ever since an enthusiastic heretic-hunter named Saul had some face time with Jesus, and then had to convince the followers of Jesus that he really wasn't hunting them any more. (Acts 9) Then there's that "...'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.'... " plea from the Cross. (Luke 23:34)

Alessandro Serenelli was, by all accounts, a nasty piece of work when he stabbed Maria Goretti, and later at his trial. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

While there he said - under oath - that he had seen Maria Goretti in a dream. Long story made short, he got let out three years early because he started acting very differently.

Maria Goretti had forgiven him before dying. Her mother forgave him: and the two of the received the Host at Mass together.

And they all lived happily ever after?

That depends on how you look at things.

Alessandro Serenelli, AKA Alexander Serenelli, Parolee and Outcast

Alessandro Serenelli - in English-language accounts he's often called Alexander Serenelli - apparently wasn't accepted by the community where he'd lived. He died, an old man, on May 6th, 1970, in a Capuchin monastery. Accounts of what he'd been doing there vary quite a bit. "Gardener" shows up quite often, but so do quite a number of other non-glamorous jobs.

The less-unlikely accounts say that he was some sort of lay brother with the Capuchins.
"...'Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.

" '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..."

"...'Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I've been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta....' (Friends of St. Maria Goretti USA) "
I've run into the assertion that some Catholics are urging that Allesandro Serenelli be beatified - that's the one step away from official sainthood. I'm inclined to believe it, given what he did with his life after his conversion: but I haven't been able to confirm that this is the case.

Allesandro's reference to Maria Goretti as his "Guardian Angel" should be taken as a metaphor. Our guardian angels are just that: angels.
"GUARDIAN ANGELS: Angels assigned to protect and intercede for each person (336). See Angel."
And televised entertainment notwithstanding, angels aren't human.
"Angel: A spiritual, personal, and immortal creature, with intelligence and free will, who glorifies God without ceasing and who serves God as a messenger of his saving plan (329-331)." (Catechism, Glossary)
An angel is assigned to each of us: that's our guardian angel.
"...'Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.'..." (Catechism, 336)
But that's getting into another topic.

Related posts:

A tip of the hat to FranciscanMI, on Twitter, for the heads-up on the subject of this post.

1You may have heard of Saul under his Greco-Roman name, Paul. It wasn't unusual for people to use two names in those days. (footnote 5 of Acts 13)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.