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Pope remembers famous last words of priest murdered by mafia 30 years ago


Andreas SOLARO / AFP

I.Media - published on 08/28/23

Pope Francis wrote a letter remembering Blessed Father Pino Puglisi’s fight against the mafia, on the 30th anniversary of his murder.

In a letter addressed to Archbishop Corrado Lorefice of Palermo (Italy), Pope Francis paid tribute to Blessed Pino Puglisi, a Sicilian priest murdered by the mafia in 1993. In the text shared by the Holy See Press Office on August 20, 2023, the Pontiff invited priests in Sicily, where the mafia is still a strong presence, to overcome their fears and build a more fraternal society.

Who was he?

Born in Palermo in 1937, Father Giuseppe Puglisi was shot by the Sicilian mafia as he was entering his house on his 56th birthday, due to his commitment to fighting organized crime. His murder occurred a little over a year after the assassinations, also in Palermo, of famous anti-mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Father Puglisi had paid a public tribute to the two figures in a ceremony he celebrated in his Palermo neighborhood, where the mafia exercised strong control. 

Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against organized crime and has often highlighted this priest’s fight against the mafia. On September 15, 2018, he visited Father Puglisi’s home on the 25th anniversary of his murder. “One cannot believe in God and be a mafioso,” the Pontiff famously said at the time. 

Smiling in the face of death

In the letter remembering Blessed Puglisi on the 30th anniversary of his death, the Pontiff highlights “Don Pino”’s famous last words to his murderer: “I was expecting that,” followed by a smile. “That smile, […] reaches us like a gentle light that delves in and enlightens the heart. Following Jesus’ example, Don Pino reached the depths of love,” the Pope explained. 

“The streets of the neighborhood were the field Church he had served with sacrifice,” the Pontiff wrote. “He never tired of caring for [his land] and watering it with the regenerating water of the Gospel, so that each person could quench their thirst and enjoy the refreshment of the soul to face the harshness of a life that was not always merciful.” 

Don Pino: An example for priests today

Through this exemplary witness of a life spent for others, Pope Francis urged the priests of the Diocese of Palermo, and of Sicily generally, to have the “courage to dare without fear and instill hope in those [they] meet, especially the weakest, the sick, the suffering, the migrants, those who have fallen and want to be helped to rise again.”

“The preferential option for the poor is urgent,” the Pontiff insisted, while also encouraging priests to “let the young be the focus of [their] care” as  “they are the hope of the future.”

“May the disarming smile of Father Pino Puglisi spur you on to be joyful and bold disciples, disposed first of all to that constant interior conversion that makes you more ready to serve your brothers and sisters, faithful to your priestly promises and docile in obedience to the Church,” Francis wrote.

Father Puglisi “liked to say: “If each one of us does something, then we can do a great deal.” Let this be an invitation for each of us to overcome our many personal fears and resistances and to work together to build a just and fraternal society.”

Father Puglisi’s beatification

Father Pino Puglisi was beatified on May 25, 2013. It was Benedict XVI who in 2012 had authorized the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree enabling his beatification.

During a visit to Palermo in October 2010, Benedict XVI made special mention of Father Puglisi when meeting young Sicilians. Today the priest is buried in the Palermo Cathedral.

ItalyPope Francis
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