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On Faith: Forgiveness can be a multifold blessing

July 16, 2011|By Fr. Stephen Doktorczyk

I believe that a good deal of our suffering stems from unforgiveness. It can be difficult to forgive someone who has gravely wronged us, and even more so when that same person refuses to ask for pardon or believes that he or she did nothing wrong to begin with.

If you find yourself sometimes struggling in this area, you might be interested in knowing more about St. Maria Goretti. Born in Italy in 1890, Maria lived with her parents and five siblings on a farm very near a widower and his teenaged son. The families shared a common kitchen and would often run into one another in the close quarters. Eventually Maria's father passed away, and the family was left on its own.

The teenage boy, Alessandro, had no real religious upbringing and vulgarities regularly came from his mouth. His advances towards young Maria would not cease, and one day he threatened to kill the girl if she would not give in to his demands.

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Maria refused, preferring to die preserving her virginity rather than allow her chastity to be violated. This did not bode well with Alessandro, who stabbed Maria 14 times, leaving her for dead. Maria was able to drag herself over to the door and was taken to the local hospital. The surgeons had to act quickly. They determined anesthesia would be too hard on her body, so operated for two hours without it. Despite the intense pain, not a sound was heard from her lips.

While Maria did not survive, on her deathbed she had a forgiving disposition:

"I forgive my murderer out of my love for Jesus. Alessandro will join me in heaven, as I have forgiven him and I pray God will too. Soon I will meet Him face to face."

For his part, Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years of hard labor in prison. His heart remained hardened. Then one day, years later, Maria appeared to Alessandro in a dream and handed him 14 roses (one for each stab wound).

He realized she forgave him, and later confessed to the authorities that he had lied about the sequence of events. He had insisted that it was Maria who was pursuing him and that he was trying to defend himself. After he fessed up, admitting that he was the perpetrator, the Church beatified Maria, in effect proclaiming her to be in heaven. Many miracles were attributed to her intercession before and after.

The story gets even better. Once Alessandro was released from jail, he immediately paid a visit to Maria's mother, begging her for forgiveness. The mother figured that if her daughter was able to forgive, she could as well.

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