Mixtapes for Hookers


Happy All Souls Day!
November 2, 2010, 8:38 am
Filed under: Italians | Tags: , , , , ,

[Note: I meant to post this yesterday, All Saints Day, but was busy working.  Today is All Souls Day, though, so it’s maybe still relevant.]

When I was in sixth grade, I begged and pleaded with my parents for them to send me to Catholic school.  I was terrified–absolutely terrified–of the prospect of junior high, partly because I was terrified of everything and partly because my junior high in particular often made headlines on the local news for being a cruel and violent place.

I applied to a schmancy private school–a high school that was only allowing seventh- and eighth-graders in for the first time–but I got wait-listed and instead went to the local parish school, the K-8 school that prolonged elementary education for two extra years and which, in the end, I would flee after six months.  (Had I gone to the schmancy school, though, I would have met the young Rocco Baldelli.  Which is not exciting to me, because I don’t know anything about baseball, but he is my age and went to that school  Just so you know.)

Each year, the school I went to chose one Saint that was going to be the Official Saint Of The School For One Year, and the year I went it was Saint Maria Goretti.  Every class was required to learn all about Saint Maria Goretti and how they could try to be more like her.  The kindergarters learned how Maria Goretti was a Young Person Who Really Liked Jesus And Went To Church No Matter What, Even When It Was Hard.  As seventh graders, my class learned that Saint Maria Goretti was a Young Person Who Refused To Be Raped Because She Loved Jesus Too Much.

I always thought Maria Goretti was a teenager when she died, but she was only eleven, the youngest person to ever be canonized.
Maria was the third of six children, daughter of poor itinerant farmers; her father died of malaria when she was just nine.  At the time, her family lived in a house with another family, the Serenellis.  Maria was assaulted by twenty-year old farmhand Alessandro Serenelli, and when she refused repeatedly to have sex with him for religious reasons he stabbed her fourteen times with a dagger (or possibly an awl.)  Maria somehow managed to live one more day, long enough to forgive Serenelli for his actions.  She died in the summer of 1902.

Serenelli was quickly sent to prison, where he remained for twenty-seven years.  While there, he had a dream that Maria gave him flowers, and his life was changed.  He began praying to her, which to me is intensely creepy, but I suppose that’s the nature of sainthood.  Upon release, he went to her mother to beg forgiveness; in 1950, they attended her canonization ceremony together, along with thousands of other people, many of them children.

Maria Goretti was not sainted not because she fought off her rapist, dying a virgin–although Serenelli’s prison stories, unreliable as they may be, suggest otherwise.  No, she was given sainthood because she forgave her rapist, at the age of eleven, while dying of multiple stab wounds.

Maria Goretti’s story is a complicated and fascinating one; part of what I like about it, from a fictive/literary standpoint, is that it’s open to a wide variety of interpretations, depending on how much information you have.  On the other hand, Maria Goretti was a real eleven-year old who was murdered for not sleeping with a man nine years her senior, and today she is celebrated for the fact that she forgave him.  The lessons we learned in seventh grade–go to church, try not to get raped, be nice–are all well and good, but as an adult it seems like the underlying lesson–don’t blame your attacker if you’re fatally assaulted–is maybe not such a good one.

Maria Goretti is the patron saint of young people and rape victims.  Her feast day is July 6.


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