Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alessandro Serenelli

Alessandro Serenelli

          One of my favorite saints is St. Maria Goretti.  Many people have heard of her, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  But fewer have heard of Alessandro Serenelli.  He’s the man who murdered St. Maria.
          When Alessandro was nineteen and Maria was eleven, he made shameful sexual passes at her, which she always refused.  One day her refusal was met with rage.  He stabbed Maria 11 times with an ice pick and then went to take a nap.  When Alessandro heard Maria struggling after regaining consciousness, he stabbed her three more times.  She died the next day.
          But that is not the end of the story.  Alessandro’s life actually had a happy ending.  After being sentenced to 30 years, the maximum for his age, he had a conversion in prison.  Maria came to him in a dream and presented him 14 while lilies in forgiveness, one for each time he stabbed her.  (Maria had declared her forgiveness of Alessandro before she died as well.)
          For good behavior, Alessandro got out of prison three years early and struck up a relationship with one of the most unlikely people in the world – Maria’s mother.  As they aged he cared for her, and the two often went to Mass together.  Alessandro lived his final years as a doorman in a monastery, where the brothers had taken him in.  In his final days he issued a warning to the world about “immoral pictures,” the precursors of our modern pornography, how they corrupt the mind and lead to all sorts of evils.
          Alessandro lived the majority of his life as a holy, humble man who spent his days doing acts of charity and trying to honor the young girl he had killed and the God she loved so much.
          The life of Alessandro Serenelli is fascinating to me because it is a story of hope and a challenging story for our times.  Often people find themselves beaten down by their sins, unable to believe that they can be forgiven or loved by God.  Despair is a favorite weapon of the devil’s.  Alessandro’s story reminds us that there is no sin that can not be forgiven, and no sinner that can not be redeemed.  All of us can reclaim our identity as children of God no matter our past.
          It also poses serious questions to our system of justice.  Without question Alessandro’s crime is one that would have earned him the death penalty in our justice system.  How much would have been lost!  I don’t have all the answers but it is a question to ponder when we become too eager to render out death and judgment.
          Certainly neither the Church nor the world will ever forget the courageous witness of the martyr of purity, Maria Goretti.  May we also never forget the witness to redemption that is Alessandro Serenelli.