St. Maria Goretti was stabbed several times for her refusal to consent to sin against purity; Alessandro Serenelli, her "would-be rapist" (ch. 25 of Modern Saints: Their Lives and Faces vol. 1), was trying to seduce her. Certainly it is heroic that she would rather die than to consent to sin, but how is she a martyr? I thought martyrs had to die in odium fidei (because of hatred of the Faith).
How is St. Maria Goretti a martyr?
Today the Catholic Church recognizes the possibility of martyrdom on the areas of hatred of the faith, preserving one’s chastity and in some rare circumstances in charity or out of love for one’s neighbour. St. Maximilian Kolbe fits in this last case.
Kolbe's recognition as a Christian martyr generated some controversy within the Catholic Church. While his self-sacrifice at Auschwitz was considered saintly and heroic, he was not killed out of odium fidei (hatred of the faith), but as the result of his act of Christian charity toward another man. Pope Paul VI recognized this distinction at Kolbe's beatification, naming him a Confessor and giving him the unofficial title "martyr of charity." Pope John Paul II, however, overruled the commission he had established (which agreed with the earlier assessment of heroic charity). John Paul II wanted to make the point that the Nazis' systematic hatred of whole categories of humanity was inherently also a hatred of religious (Christian) faith; he said that Kolbe's death equated to earlier examples of religious martyrdom. - Maximilian Kolbe
To make his point more well known that a far more broader definition be considered when according the title of martyr to someone who technically did not die exclusively in odium fidei (because of hatred of the Faith), Pope John Paul II came out into St. Peter’s Square following the train of other concelebrants in white vestments, wearing vestments in red, the colour employed for celebrating the mass in honour of a martyr! The cat was out of the bag and St. Maximilian Kolbe was declared a martyr of Christian Charity!.
St. Maria Goretti was declared a martyr of purity! But in order to obtain the crown, Maria did the unthinkable and that made the difference: She forgave her murderer!
Maria had been beloved in the small village – her industriousness, good humour, piety, radiant goodness, along with her beauty, physical, but more importantly spiritual – endeared her to all who met her. We may suppose that God desired that she be with Him sooner than one might expect, as happens with so many who go to heaven straight as an arrow, unlike the rest of us meandering souls.
Hence, the townsfolk, when Maria’s bleeding body was discovered, gathered to lynch Alessandro, and hang his body from the nearest lamppost, but the police intervened. Maria took 24 long hours to die, after an unsuccessful surgery, without anesthesia, which she bore patiently, to the amazement of the doctors and nurses, who were surprised she was even still alive, with puncture wounds in her throat, heart, diaphragm… She forgave her murderer before she passed into eternity, asking that he be in heaven with her.
Almost right away, there were miracles, which continued through the years. One of her brothers in the trenches of the First World War heard a voice that he should not follow the command to charge the Germans – he didn’t, and every member of his troop was killed. He went on to live to a ripe old age, and have a large family.
But Maria also kept good on her promise to her would-be rapist and murderer. - Maria Goretti, A Martyr for Chastity
On the Christmas Eve 1934, Alessandro Serenelli begged forgiveness on his knees from Assunta Goretti, Maria's mother. She forgave him and said that she could not refuse since Maria had already done so on her deathbed.
The case of beatification of Alessandro Serenelli is now being considered.
Maria's feast day is celebrated on July 6. She is the patron saint of chastity, rape victims, girls, youth, teenage girls, poverty, purity, and forgiveness.
The following definition of what a martyr is can be gleaned from the following definition:
A person who chooses to suffer, even to die, rather than renounce his or her faith or Christian principles. After the example of Christ one does not resist one's persecutors when they use violence out of hatred or malice against Christ, or his Church, or some revealed truth of the Catholic religion.
There are two other wellknown saints who don't quite fit the bill as marytrs, St. Thomas More and St. Maximillian Kolbe Both of them are canonized as martyrs, but both were (in a hyperbolic way) imprisoned for their activities in upsetting the status quo (as a witness - the typical little m version of the word martyr). Then they were killed for their intransigence, St. Maximillian's spirit of charity could not be defeated by the Nazi's and St. Thomas More sense of duty could not be defeated by his king.
There is also the counter example of St. Joan of Arc, who was not canonized as a martyr. And she was canonized around the same time as St. Thomas More so she easily could have been lumped in, she was a political prisoner who renounced her forced confession. Honestly, I don't know why she's not a martyr. But it does illustrate that the Church is kind of particular about the way these terms get used. It would be strange, to say the least, if a person could be said to be a Martyr for being put to death by people who were technically of the same faith.
Now, in the case of St. Maria Goretti, there was a deadening to the faith inside the heart of her murderer that occurred in the time when they lived together. He murdered her because she would not submit to his will, which was infidelity - straight from Satan. This is the martyrdom aspect of St. Maria Goretti. The fact that it took a while for some of the Virgin Martyrs of yore to be fed to lions is immaterial, they were killed for the same reasons as St. Maria was just with a shorter timespan.
It might go without saying, or might seem insensitive to say this as a man, but most girls or women in her case are raped, not killed - and even though rape is in many ways a worse crime than murder, it does not make a person a martyr. In Dante's Paradisio there are examples two religious sisters who were taken away from their monasteries and lived virtuous lives, but their lack of fidelity to their vow caused them to have less glory in heaven.
The glory of martyrdom cannot be taken from St. Maria Goretti simply because her case wasn't typical, in fact, it's the prototype for all martyrdoms and probably the most amazing example in the last 200 years.