VATICAN CITY, JULY 8, 2002 ( John Paul II again presented St. Maria Goretti as a model of purity and forgiveness to youth worldwide, many of whom he will be meeting in Toronto for World Youth Day.

In a letter to Bishop Agostino Vallini of Albano on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the 11-year-old girl who died protecting her virginity from an attacker, the Pope touched on a theme he also raised Sunday at his Angelus address.

"Marietta," as she was known in her family, died July 6, 1902, the day after the attack. She died in a hospital in Nettuno, located about 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Rome.

After briefly recalling the life of Maria Goretti, who came from a poor family, John Paul II referred to this "little and gentle martyr of purity."

"What a shining example for youth!" the Pope exclaimed in his letter. "It is hard, for the uncommitted mentality that invades a good part of society and the culture of our time, to understand the beauty and value of chastity."

"From the behavior of this young saint emerges an elevated and noble perception of her own and others' dignity," the papal message states, adding that it must surely be "a lesson of great importance" for our time.

"Faced with a culture that values excessively the physical character of relations between man and woman, the Church continues to defend and promote the value of sexuality as a factor that affects all the aspects of a person and, hence, must be lived with an inner attitude of freedom and reciprocal respect, in the light of the original plan of God," the Pope continued.

"In this perspective, the person discovers himself or herself as the object of a gift and is called at the same time to become a gift to the other," the Holy Father stated.

John Paul II also presented Maria Goretti as a model of forgiveness, for she was able to forgive her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli, a disturbed youth who stabbed her repeatedly with a knife.

Maria's forgiveness was decisive for Serenelli. When he left prison, after completing a 27-year sentence, the first thing he did was to visit Maria's mother, to ask for her forgiveness. He found a job as a gardener in the Capuchin monastery of Macerata, where he spent the rest of his life.

"May humanity follow with determination the way of mercy and forgiveness!" the Pope implored.

He added of Maria: "I especially propose the example of this saint to youth, who are the hope of the Church and of humanity."