I used to think some crimes inflicted upon another person as too tragic and horrifying to expect forgiveness. Imagine a girl at the age of eleven faced with such an unspeakable transgression, but, instead of ill will, she chooses to forgive the one person who ends up brutally killing her.
This month, Everyday Gurus, B4peace challenge is to share something about forgiveness. I think it would be safe to say most adults, at some point, face having to forgive (or not forgive) someone who has caused some conflict or deep pain in their lives. However, what about the unforgivable offense: murder? Can you take someone’s life and then expect forgiveness? It seems impossible. However, for those not familiar with the young girl, Maria Goretti, her story best illustrates American radio host, Bernard Meltzer’s quote, “When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.”
Maria is a modern-day saint canonized in the 1950s by the Catholic Church. She grew up in Italy, and because her family was quite poor, she watched over her infant sister and maintained the housework while her parents and other four siblings worked for other farmers to earn a living. When her father died from malaria, to cut living expenses, Maria’s mother moved into a building shared with Giovanni Serenelli and his nineteen-year-old son, Alessandro.
On July 5, 1902, unfortunately, Alessandro attempted to rape the eleven year old, Maria, as she sat at home babysitting and sewing. Despite Maria’s desperate calls for help and protests to stop Alessandro, it was hopeless. She was first choked then stabbed eleven times as she told Alessandro, “she would rather die than submit to him.” It gets worse. Because Maria attempted to escape, Alessandro stabbed her three more times before running off, leaving her to her own fate. With the noisy commotion, Maria’s little sister began to cry and that led Maria’s mother and Alessandro’s father back to the house. Barely alive, the doctors found Maria’s multiple wounds beyond repair. Twenty hours after she was brutally attacked, she gained conscious long enough to say she had forgiven Alessandro and wanted him in heaven with her. How is this possible? Maybe Maria possessed the true essence on the power of peace as Robert Muller once wrote:
“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return you will receive untold peace and happiness.”
Although Maria did not live to see peace and happiness in her life, Alessandro eventually repented, begged Maria’s mother, Assunta, for forgiveness and incredibly, he attended Maria’s canonization on June 24, 1950. He lived the rest of his life as a lay brother working as the receptionist and gardener in a monastery. Alessandro died peacefully in 1970.
Whenever I struggle finding the urge to forgive someone who I feel dared to mess up my happy little life, I think about young Maria Goretti. Even though she could not change the past, her courage to forgive her murderer, Alessandro, changed his future, maybe even the world in a way, as the domino effect of peace fell into place.
“Let is forgive each other – only then will we live in peace.” ~Leo Tolstoy
♥ In gratitude, every year on July 6, one can celebrate Maria’s feast day. She is the patroness of youth, rape victims, young girls, poverty, purity and forgiveness.
♥ In gratitude for the example Maria Goretti left for the world, I leave you with Forgiveness by Matthew West.
Peace be with you always.