I remember when I was seven my mother bringing me to the Capuchin church, Our Lady of the Angels, in Church St, Dublin, way back in 1950. It was the day that St Maria Goretti was canonised. In those days there were no afternoon or evening Masses, so the ceremony, as I recall it, ended with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. But what I remember most vividly, because I did not appreicate it at the time, was the recitation of the 15 mysteries of the rosary, the first time I had experienced that. Now there are 20, with the addition of the Mysteries of Light.
There were two extraordinary things about the canonisation of Maria. One was the presence of her mother, the first time this had ever happened at such a ceremony. The other was the presence of Alessandro Serenelli, the man who had tried to rape her and who then murdered her. He repented some years after the incident and asked for and received the forgiveness of Maria's mother. In his latter years he was a member of the Capuchin Third Order and lived with a community of friars. He died in 1970.
I have many friends who have found themselves in a situation similar to that of Maria Teresa, to give her her two baptismal names. She was born on 16 October 1890 and died on 6 July 1902. So she was a few months short of 12. Despite her lack of formal education she was well formed in the Catholic faith at home. Some of my young friends who have been violated, some of them small children, have had very little schooling.
In June 2007 a 13-year-old namesake of the saint, Maria Teresa Medrano, was raped and murdered in Bago City, just south of Bacolod City where I live. A few weeks later Mary Joy Mayo, 16, was brutally raped and slain in Talisay City, just north of Bacolod.
My Columban colleague in Olongapo City, Fr Shay Cullen, is dealing with situations like this all the time.
Today's gospel happened to be St Matthew's account of the cure of the woman with the haemorrhage and the raising from the dead of the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus. (I much prefer St Mark's far more vivid account which we had two Sundays ago). One of the characteristics of Jesus was that he gave importance to children in a society where they were 'seen and not heard'. I often heard when I was young that 'children should be seen and not heard', something I have never fully accepted. Indeed, one of the most gratifying things I was told by a friend of mine, now with her own large family, who told me when she was a young woman that she always appreciated the fact that when she was a child I took her seriously.
It is striking that God often chooses young people who are poor to remind us of his love for us. St Bernadette of Lourdes is a prime example, and the three children in Fatima.
There is a desperate need today to emphasise the importance of chastity and purity. These are virtues that are mocked and undermined, especially in Western societies. They are virtues that people have always had to struggle with but were recognised before, at least in Christian societies, as desirable. Today they are not. I believe that this has increased the level of unhappiness and violence in the world. The number of abortions, both legal and illegal, has soared. And when deaths related to pregnancy are cited there is usually no inclusion of the children who have been killed. The number of marriages and families breaking up has soared.
Yesterday I came across the website of Pure in Heart, 'an Irish youth community dedicated to living the true beauty of sexuality'. Thanks to Father Gerard Dunne OP for the link on his Irish Dominican Vocations. Young people are attracted to what is good, not to what is bad. They may be seduced by the latter but what touches their hearts and their idealism is what is from God. Pope John Paul II recognised that on the centennial of the death of the saint. And it's not only young people. One of the most awful aspects of the abuse of children by adults, especially priests and religious, is the destruction of trust, the destruction of innocence.
May St Maria Teresa Goretti - it has just struck me now that she must have been given the name 'Teresa' because she was born the day after the feast of the great Carmelite saint of Avila - obtain for our young people, boys and girls, the grace of a deep appreciation of who they are and of the importance of self-respect and of respect for others.