The lesson of Sta. Maria Goretti to Filipinos

By Mark Manalang

March 26, 2024, 10:01 am

<p><strong>FORGIVENESS AND COMPASSION.</strong> Sta. Maria Goretti is the patron saint of chastity, poverty, purity, forgiveness, the youth, teenage girls, and victims of rape and abuse. The Sta. Maria Goretti Parish, located inside the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center on UN Avenue, Manila, was built in her honor.<em> (PNA photo by Mark Manalang)</em></p>

FORGIVENESS AND COMPASSION. Sta. Maria Goretti is the patron saint of chastity, poverty, purity, forgiveness, the youth, teenage girls, and victims of rape and abuse. The Sta. Maria Goretti Parish, located inside the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center on UN Avenue, Manila, was built in her honor. (PNA photo by Mark Manalang)

MANILA – In a quiet part of Manila's Paco district, along United Nations Avenue, stands the Sta. Maria Goretti Parish, a young parish, having been established about 42 years ago.

However, thousands of Catholics have flocked to its grounds throughout the years, especially to pray and express devotion to its patron saint, Sta. Maria Goretti.

Sta. Maria Goretti is one of Christianity’s youngest canonized saints. She is the patron saint of chastity, poverty, purity, and forgiveness. She is also the patron saint of the youth, especially teenage girls, as well as crime victims, especially rape and abuse. Her feast day is on July 6.

“Sta. Maria Goretti is called a young saint, as she died before she was twelve years old,” Fr. Jason Laguerta, the parish priest, said of the saint in a recent interview.

A tragic life story

Maria was born in the province of Ancona in Italy to a family of farmers on Oct. 16, 1890. She was the third of six children and grew up with a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Maria’s father died of malaria when she was 9 years old. Her mother, Assunta, was forced to work in the fields, while it fell on her to take care of her siblings, as well as her neighbors and fellow farmers, Giovanni Serenelli and his son Alessandro.

Unknown to Maria at the time, the teenage Alessandro had developed impure thoughts towards her and had since resorted to harassing her numerous times.

One day, while Maria was alone at home, Alessandro forced himself on her, but the young girl resisted with all her might. Seeing that he could not violate Maria, Allesandro stabbed her 14 times and left her to die.

Maria was eventually found by her family and rushed to the hospital, but the surgeons could no longer save her. It is said that in her dying breath, after expressing concern for her mother, Maria said, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli, and I want him with me in heaven forever.”

Maria died on July 6, 1902.

“Before Maria died, she told everyone that she had forgiven Alessandro, her murderer. This is why she became a saint. Despite being the one who was hurt and killed, she still forgave her attacker," Laguerta said.

Alessandro was arrested and sentenced to prison for the murder of Maria. However, he was unrepentant to the point of blaming the young girl for her own demise. It was then that Alessandro would encounter Maria again, an event that would lead to his repentance.

“When he was in prison, after around 30 years, he saw Maria in a dream carrying fourteen flowers, as if she was telling him that she had forgiven him. Since then, Alessandro experienced a conversion," the parish priest said.

After his release, Alessandro became a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin until he died in 1970 at the age of 87.

Maria was beatified on April 27, 1947 in a ceremony witnessed by Pope Pius XII and Maria’s mother Assunta. Three years later, on June 24, 1950, in the presence of about 500,000 Catholics outside Saint Peter’s Basilica, Maria was declared a saint.

Emulating a young saint's life

It was in 1982 when Sta. Maria Goretti Parish was founded and erected inside the compound of the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center as per the wishes of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin. Sin wished for the youth in the community to understand and emulate the life and example of the young saint through this parish.

At first, the parish served only the three surrounding barangays in the vicinity of Pope Pius Catholic Center.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, then-parish priest Fr. Dave Concepcion started holding online masses for its parishioners, which were posted on YouTube and its Facebook page.

The online masses and prayers on social media assuaged the spiritual needs of Catholics amid the pandemic, and at the same time, it attracted more devotees to the parish.

To date, thousands from all over the Philippines and as far as the United States and London personally visit the parish.

Many of these pilgrims come to see the first-class relic of Maria Goretti, which is venerated in a votive Mass and healing session held every Thursday morning.

Laguerta said the Sta. Maria Goretti Parish holds great potential in responding to the Catholic Church’s call for evangelization, especially with the proliferation of digital media in the modern age.

“In cooperation with the Pope Pius Catholic Center, there will be seminars, workshops, and modules on evangelization for the parish and the youth. The challenge for Sta. Maria Goretti Parish is its wider coverage. Its boundaries are not only within the three barangays that it serves, but the whole world.”

Aside from its spiritual works, the parish has its own projects for the community. One example is “Isang Kanin, Isang Ulam”, a feeding program held for the poor and street dwellers, including those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Laguerta said the project has since undergone changes in response to the changing needs of its beneficiaries, particularly their mental and emotional needs.

Another parish project is the “Iskolar ni Maria” Scholarship Program, which sponsors the schooling of hundreds of indigent students. Some of these scholars now serve in the parish’s ministry, such as through charity and volunteering, and serving in liturgical celebrations.

Forgiveness and compassion

Laguerta hoped that Filipinos would learn from Sta. Maria Goretti’s faith and example -- a life filled with forgiveness, mercy and compassion.

"The way to peace is always forgiveness, not violence or retaliation. Despite the wrongdoings, resentment, unfair treatment, and hurt caused by what others say or do, it is important for us to learn to forgive, and not give in to violence towards others. We must strive to be a bridge of peace through forgiveness. I think it's not leniency, it is really mercy that heals the wounds caused by the selfishness and mistakes of people," he added.

He also reminded Filipinos that the Holy Week is a time to enrich their faith and remember the sacrifice made by Jesus as a sign of love from God.

To give back God’s love, everyone is called on to offer prayers and good deeds.

“Just as God loves us, so should we do the same for our families, co-workers, and others, even those we don’t know. Let us spread the love, mercy, and compassion of God to all," Laguerta said. (PNA)