Nettuno, Italy is only an hour’s drive west of Rome, yet few tourists find time to visit there. Other than a handful of hotels and seafood restaurants, not much of Nettuno would be attractive to a typical tourist in search of beauty and glare. Its black sand beaches are trim and crowded with locals. The ocean rises and falls like any other coast, though there is no pristine water or cragged rocks to receive its splash. By any standards, Nettuno is just plain ordinary.
Yet, within that ordinary town something of the extraordinary occurred. In 1902, a young girl was attacked by a young man who wanted to take advantage of her. Only 11 years of age, Maria knew that it was a sin and refused to give in to sensual desires. He forced her into a room in hope to have relations with her and when she denied him, he began to strike her with a knife. The 20 year old man, Alessandro, stabbed her three times in the stomach as Maria kept saying, “No, Alessandro. It is a sin and you will go to hell!” Enraged by passions, Alessandro continued to harm the girl, stabbing her 14 times in the stomach and heart before fleeing the room.
Maria, having just received her first Communion, realized the importance of keeping her body and soul pure. She was not afraid of death, knowing that fidelity to God would bring about eternal life. As they rushed her to the hospital, Maria knew that these were her last moments. A priest who visited her asked Maria if she would forgive Alessandro for what he did. “Yes, I forgive him” she said, “and I hope he is in heaven with me one day.”
In a world where sin is only a click-of-the-mouse away, we should remember little Maria and her valor in choosing death before committing a mortal sin. Lustful temptations surround us from billboards to the television. We are told that our passions should never be repressed and that if it makes us feel good, it must be good. However, in following our passions we clasp around our own neck the shackles of sin that prevents us from living as true persons and sharing in real happiness.
Pope Benedict invited young people around the world to follow the example of St. Maria Goretti. He described her as "a girl who, though very young, was able to demonstrate strength and courage against evil" and said, "I invoke her for you, dear young people so that she will help you to always choose the good, even when it is costly." It is true that young people today are faced with more temptations than in the past. Yet, that is not an excuse for their infidelity, but rather an opportunity for them to grow in love and fidelity to God.
Today people have a special reason for visiting the town of Nettuno. A beautiful basilica stands sentinel on the shore like a giant lighthouse that can be seen for miles. Beneath its towering dome rests a small child who chose to live chaste and give up her life rather than succumb to the lures of sin. As we travel along the rugged sea of temptation,Maria Goretti’s light shines for all of us pointing towards a pure life and eternal happiness.
Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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