A very wounded young man, Alessandro Serenelli, had a mother who tried to drown him after he was born. Shortly after that, she would die in a mental asylum. His father was an alcoholic and he had a brother who also died in an asylum. When he was twenty, he tried to rape his neighbor, Maria Goretti, a girl about three months shy of her twelfth birthday. Maria resisted and fought off his advances, leading Alessandro to stabbing her fourteen times. She would be taken to the hospital, where she succumbed from the stab wounds. Maria, while still conscious, spoke her last words: “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”

Alessandro was sentenced to thirty years in prison. He was unrepentant and violent. Six years into his sentence, Maria came to him in a vision, walking through a garden picking fourteen white lilies and handing them to Alessandro one by one. It was through this gesture of Maria that Alessandro began to understand mercy and forgiveness. His wounds began to be healed immediately as he understood that she held nothing against him for those fourteen stab wounds. Like Jesus wounded through his passion and giving his life on the cross for sinful humanity, the Spirit of resurrection and new life, the Spirit of God’s love, began to reign in his heart. He asked and received forgiveness from Maria’s mother after being released early from prison.

When Alessandro died while living as a lay brother with the Capuchin friars in Macerata, Italy, a sealed envelope was discovered. Alessandro wanted to address the world: “… Looking back at my past, I recognize that in my early youth I followed a false road—an evil path that led to my ruin. Through the content of printed magazines, immoral shows, and bad examples in the media, I saw the majority of the young people in my day following evil without even thinking twice. Unworried, I did the same thing. There were faithful and practicing Christian believers around me, but I paid no attention to them. I was blinded by a brute impulse that pushed me down the wrong way of living. …”

Alessandro wanted to expose the wounds that came from the dirty and impure images he saw as a youngster so that others may know the truth. He has done a great service to humanity by his witness of repentance and the change possible through God’s mercy and grace. God’s grace is here to heal all of us. God’s grace is also here to make us into instruments of mercy and compassion, and to attain virtue. Are these high ideals that seem unattainable? Not to an eleven-year-old girl who believed that nothing is impossible for God. She gave the ultimate witness to purity and God’s loving forgiveness, helping to soften the heart and soul of a man deeply wounded by his own history.

The Rev. James E. Starasinich is a pastor at St. Joseph Church, Owatonna and Christ the King, Medford.

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