What do rape and abortion have in common? They are both different fruits that stem from the same tree. They both try to destroy the meaning and purpose of the sexual act. Rape seeks to destroy the bond of sex as a loving act between husband and wife, while abortion seeks to destroy the fruit of the sexual act. Lately, there have been several articles showcasing the courage of women who carried their pregnancies (resulting from the violence of rape) to term; refraining from the temptation of thinking that an abortion would help them recover.
Recently, the major relics of St. Maria Goretti journeyed across the United States. Thousands of people came to the various cities to venerate her and to ask for her intercessions for various things. Her life was quite short; in fact, she is one of the youngest canonized saints, tragically dying a martyr at the age of 11. Her attacker, and murderer, Alessandro Serenelli had tried to seduce the young Maria, but she thwarted his diabolical advances. Alessandro became so enraged that he not only tried to rape her, but when she again reminded him of his sin, he stabbed her 14 times.
While she is known for her purity and her desire to keep her purity intact, Fr. Carlos Martins makes a great case that Maria should also be known for another reason, “But there is something much deeper within Maria from which her glory flows, a glory out of which her purity is a fruit: her identification with the Mercy of Christ. To miss sight of this is to miss out the particular charism with which God blessed her and to make her a much less useful witness of Christ than what she is” (St. Maria Goretti: In Garments All Red, forward, pg. xi). No doubt, Maria’s mercy is something that was supernaturally profound especially given the fact that she did not die immediately after attack. She persisted for nearly another 24 hours. It is important to note the extent of her wounds: the intestines were completely torn up, the lungs were punctured, and her heart had been abraded. She suffered tremendously and it is in her suffering that one can see how she best imitates Christ. As she was about to receive the Viaticum, the hospital chaplain reminded her how Christ forgave His murderers while on the Cross. Maria’s biography states when she was confronted with this reality that she replied, “Yes, for the love of Jesus I too pardon him, and I want him to be with me in heaven” (St. Maria Goretti: In Garments All Red, Ch. 10, pg. 47).
To better understand the depths of the virtue of mercy one must understand what the Church teaches about it. The Catechism states, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2447).
But how does St. Maria become a model of mercy for the pro-life person since she was not facing the abortion question? A great example of this level of mercy can be seen in the work of renowned pro-life advocate, Abby Johnson. Most pro-life advocates are familiar with Mrs. Johnson’s story. As a young woman she had two abortions and worked for Planned Parenthood. She believed what they had articulated. In her autobiography, UnPlanned, Abby Johnson, after she had just witnessed an ultrasound abortion explained her immediate thoughts, “That was a human baby—fighting for life. A battle that was lost in the blink of an eye. What I have told people for years, what I’ve believed and taught and defended, is a lie” (UnPlanned, Ch. 1, pg. 7). Pro-abortion advocates had seduced the young Mrs. Johnson into believing its faulty ideology. Furthermore, it perpetrated violence against Mrs. Johnson as well in the form of two abortions. Like St. Maria, however, Mrs. Johnson chose mercy for the industry which not only perpetrated a lie to her, but also took her children away by violence. Today, Abby Johnson leads the pro-life movement in helping get abortion clinic workers out of the industry. While she could have chosen to focus her efforts in other areas of the pro-life movement, she was moved by mercy to reach out and help those in the movement that assailed her. She certainly lives the words of Christ, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25: 35-36).
While mercy played an important role in Maria Goretti’s final hours, one must not forget the strong sense of justice also displayed by this pious young saint. The mere fact that she kept telling Alessandro that he was committing a mortal sin was the minimal form of justice she owed him. Her biography details her final declaration to him, “No! No! It is a sin! God does not want this! If you do this, you will go to Hell!” (St. Maria Goretti: In Garments All Red, Ch. 8, pg. 37). While St. Maria does not possess the intellect of a professional theologian due to her age and intellect, this simple statement is profound in its depth. It is not a mere assertion that she does not want to be violated, but rather an affirmation that Alessandro’s attempted rape is seriously grave and contrary to God’s plan for sexual intercourse. Maria justly rebukes Alessandro’s sinful actions by reminding him that his gross passion is something that can have eternal consequences for his soul. In addition, eyewitness accounts never once testify that Maria spoke ill of Alessandro after the attack. This is an amazing feat in itself given her condition and age. Most people would certainly understand if she had so much as said anything negative about Alessandro, but nothing of the sort passes her lips. These phenomenal achievements display her high regard for the dignity of the human person. She displays more concern for the other in all of this. Put another way, she has more concern for Alessandro and his soul than for her own well-being. Again, this sort of justice is a prime model for those women who find themselves pregnant after a sexual assault. No doubt, St. Maria would have sympathy for the mother who finds herself pregnant because of such an attack. But because of her heroic virtue in justice, it is more than reasonable to understand that St. Maria would have urged these pregnant mothers to act justly toward their own unborn children.
St. Maria Gorretti shows an extraordinary respect for not only human dignity, but for the sexual act as well. She understood that not only are all people made in the image and likeness of God, but all people are in need of mercy; even the most wretched. There should be little doubt that she would intercede on behalf of those who work to help abortion workers out of the abortion industry. There should be little doubt that she would intercede for those mothers who have conceived due to rape. As a child killed by violence herself and as the patron saint for youth, she understands that violence towards the most innocent, including the unborn, is contrary to not only the mercy of Christ, but His justice as well.