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Monday, 6 July 2009

Parish fun and sadness

On Saturday, the Union of Catholic Mothers held a Garden Party with various things going on, including games for children (above) and a gathering in the presbytery garden:

It was a gloriously sunny day and an opportunity to have a glass of Pimms and a chat.

For others, the Hall was available to sample the delicious cakes inside:

This evening we had our annual Mass for children and young people in the parish who have died, and to pray for their families.

As it is the feast of St Maria Goretti, I took the opportunity to speak of her life and ask for her prayers. Here is my sermon for tonight's Mass:
St Maria Goretti was born into a poor family in Italy in 1890. Her father died when she was nine years old and her mother had to work in the fields while Maria looked after the sewing and cooking at home. The family were uncomfortable with moving in next to the Serenelli family, a father and two young men. They were disturbed by the pictures (obscene by the standards of the day) which the father allowed his sons to display.

On 5 July 1902, when Maria was only 11 years old, Allessandro Serenelli found her alone and told her he would kill her if she did not do what he said. He was intending to rape her. She said “no”, that it would be a mortal sin and he would go to hell. In a fit of rage, Alessandro stabbed her 14 times. She was taken to the hospital in Nettuno and the military had to be called out to escort Serenelli into custody since the crowd that had now gathered were ready to lynch him there and then.

After surgery without the benefit of anaesthetic, during which she remained calm and devout, Maria died on the following day, July the sixth.

The story did not end there. Alessandro Serenelli was sentenced to death but since he was under 21, this was commuted to 30 years in prison. On committal to prison, he was unrepentant, cursing and blaspheming. Six years later, he had a dream that he was in a garden and received 14 flowers of pardon from the young saint, representing the 14 stab wounds he had inflicted. After this he served the rest of his sentence in peace, being released after 27 years.

On his release, he went to the mother of St Maria Goretti and begged her forgiveness which, incredibly, she granted, saying “If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withold forgiveness.” They received Holy Communion together at the parish Church. Serenelli then spent the rest of his life as a Capuchin lay brother, helping out at the Friary.

In 1950, St Maria Goretti was canonised by Pope Pius XII at a ceremony attended by enormous crowds, including her own mother – the first time that a mother had been present at the canonisation of her own daughter. Also unprecendented – her murderer himself was present to see her raised to the altars. pAt the end of his life, Serenelli wrote:

“I ask pardon of the world of the outrage done to the martyr Maria Goretti and to purity. I exhort everyone to keep away from immoral shows, from dangers, from occasions that can lead to sin.”

St Maria Goretti is a remarkable saint and one to whom we can pray especially today as we remember the children and young people of our parish who have died. We remember them with affection, we still burn with sorrow at losing them, perhaps re-living some of the horror of having to celebrate a funeral for a beloved child, so innocent, so full of life and on the threshold of great things, snatched from us by accident, or by illness.

There is a great company of children and young people in heaven. Under the care of Our Blessed Lady, the Sacred Liturgy of the heavenly banquet is also a vast playground in which children give glory to God and rejoice in His presence as ones most dear to him. As a martyr, we might think of St Maria Goretti as a kind of “prefect”. In heaven she would not need to keep order because that would already be perfect. But she would surely lead her brothers and sisters in Christ in loving praise and adoration of God who pours out his gracious kindness on all the elect.

And we should not forget too, to pray for any of the children old enough to commit sin, that the Lord will forgive them and cleanse them lovingly of anything that will prevent them from enjoying the fullness of joy in heaven. If our prayers are no longer needed, they will be of great consolation for someone else who does need them – perhaps Alessandro Serenelli or some poor soul who scraped into purgatory because he recognised that he was a sinner.
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