12-year-old Benigna Cardoso da Silva was killed by her would-be rapist.
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Update: On October 24, 2022, her feast day, Benigna was beatified. Pope Francis spoke about her example that week at the end of the Wednesday general audience, speaking of her as “a young martyr who, keeping the word of God, kept her life pure, defending her dignity. May her example help us to be generous disciples of Christ. On our consistent and joyful witness to the Gospel depends the life of the world.”
St. Maria Goretti is well known for being a “martyr for purity,” fighting the young man who sexually assaulted her and begging him not to sin, even to the point of losing her life. Since her canonization in 1950, the Church has recognized other individuals with similar stories.
One such example is Benigna Cardoso da Silva, a holy 12-year-old girl living in Santana do Cariri, Brazil. At an early age she had a desire to receive the Eucharist, and after making her First Communion, was firm in her resolution to keep the 10 Commandments.
She never missed Mass and would freely offer penance on First Fridays in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Benigna also read the Bible on a regular basis. When a boy her age started making unwanted advances, she sought out the counsel of her parish priest.
Her prayer life solidified her faith and strengthened her will to resist whatever proposals the boy would try on her. However, the boy would not take no for an answer and was enraged when she repeatedly turned him down.
Then on October 24, 1941, the boy hid in the bushes in hopes of catching Benigna off guard when she was fetching water. He was hoping to rape her, but she managed to fight off his attempts and prevented him from forcing himself upon her.
This refusal added fuel to his rage and the boy took out a machete and started attaching Benigna. He made several blows, the last one killing her instantly. The boy fled, but her body was soon found. He was eventually arrested and spent most of his life in prison. In 1991 he was released and returned to the site of the murder, sincerely repentant of what he had done.
Benigna’s heroic example became an inspiration for the local people and in 2011 her cause for canonization was open. On October 2, 2019, Pope Francis authorized her “martyrdom,” paving the way for her beatification in Brazil.
She will join the ranks of Maria Goretti as a “martyr for purity,” highlighting how God’s beautiful plan for our sexuality is so often abused and perverted.