Among the decrees approved by the Holy Father last week, as the Venerable Fulton Sheen took the limelight, another great witness to faith was recognised: Fr Pino Puglisi. Fr Pino was murdered in 1993 by the Mafia in Sicily - his murder has been recognised as martyrdom by the Church and, I am open to correction on this, he will become the first victim of the Mafia to be beatified.
Fr Pino was born in Palermo, Sicily, on the 15th September 1937. Entering the seminary in 1953 he was ordained priest in 1960. He was appointed as curate to a couple of parishes, was chaplain to a congregation of sisters, and worked as a teacher. He had a particular charism for working with young people.
At this time the Second Vatican Council was in full swing, and Fr Pino took a great interest in the proceedings. Like Karol Wojtyla in Krakow, he made sure that the people in his care received the documents from the Council and were informed as to what was really going on, as opposed to the emergence of the "spirit of Vatican II interpretation".
In 1970 he was appointed pastor of a small village, Godrano, a village torn apart by vendettas. In the eight years he served there he managed to bring warring families together and, by the time he left, reconciliation and peace had been restored. He worked with a number of movements in the Church including Catholic Action, Teams of Our Lady, and groups working for peace and civil rights in the face of Mafia dominance.
In 1990 he was appointed pastor of San Gaetano in Brancaccio, and here his work with the victims of the Mafia intensified. He denounced the crimes of the Mafia and the collusion between politicians and the Mafia. He was soon receiving threats and intimidations as the Mafia tried to silence him. He refused to browbeaten. On the 15th September 1993, his 56th birthday, Fr Pino was killed by the Mafia in his rectory. His killers were eventually found, put on trial and convicted; it emerged that the priest's ministry was the motivation for the killing.
Fr Pino's death was seen as a martyrdom by the people of Sicily. His Cause was opened in 1999, and last week Pope Benedict formally recognised him as a martyr. We await the announcement of the date of his beatification.
Here's a video of a brief interview with Fr Pino in Italian:
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