Giuseppe 'Pino' Puglisi
was a Roman Catholic priest in the rough Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...
neighbourhood of Brancaccio
Brancaccio is a neighbourhood of Palermo, Sicily. It is a semi-traditional area of the working class. It was important in the history of the Cosa Nostra....
. He openly challenged the Mafia who controlled the neighbourhood, and was killed by them on his 56th birthday. His life story has been retold in a book, Don Puglisi: Vita del prete palermitano ucciso dalla mafia
(2001), and portrayed in a film, In the Sunlight
Ordained as priest
Puglisi was born in Brancaccio, a working class neighbourhood, into a family of modest means. His father was a shoemaker and his mother a dressmaker. He entered the seminary at age sixteen. Following ordination, he worked in various parishes, including a country parish afflicted by a bloody vendetta.
Puglisi was ordained as a priest in 1960 by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini
Ernesto Ruffini was an Italian Cardinal of the Catholic Church who served as Archbishop of Palermo from 1945 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1946 by Pope Pius XII.-Biography:...
from Palermo. Ruffini regarded Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...
as a greater threat than the Mafia. He once questioned the Mafia's very existence. To a journalist's question of "What is the Mafia?" he responded: "So far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent." This denial persuaded Puglisi of the need to challenge church authorities. "We can, we must criticize the church when we feel it doesn't respond to our expectations, because it's absolutely right to seek to improve it," he said. With his trademark humour, Puglisi added: "But we should always criticize it like a mother, never a mother-in-law!"
In 1990, Puglisi returned to his old quarter Brancaccio and became the priest of San Gaetano's Parish. He spoke out against the Mafia who controlled the area and opened a shelter for underprivileged children. Puglisi had been offered other parishes by the local curia
A curia in early Roman times was a subdivision of the people, i.e. more or less a tribe, and with a metonymy it came to mean also the meeting place where the tribe discussed its affairs...
, in less troublesome Palermo neighborhoods, but he opted for San Gaetano.
With little support from the Palermo archdiocese, Puglisi tried to change his parishioners' mentality, which was conditioned by fear, passivity and omerta
Omertà is a popular attitude and code of honour and a common definition is the "code of silence". It is common in areas of southern Italy, such as Sicily, Apulia, Calabria, and Campania, where criminal organizations defined as Mafia such as the Cosa Nostra, 'Ndrangheta, Sacra Corona Unita, and...
– imposed silence. In his sermons, he pleaded to give leads to authorities about the Mafia's illicit activities in Brancaccio, even if they could not actually name names. He refused their monies when offered for the traditional feast day celebrations, and would not allow the Mafia "men of honour" to march at the head of religious processions.
He tried to discourage the children from dropping out of school, robbing, drug dealing and selling contraband cigarettes. He ignored a series of warnings and declined to award a contract to a construction firm which had been "indicated" to him by the Mafia for the restoration of the church, whose roof was collapsing. Those parishioners that made attempts to reform matters were sent strong messages. A small group who organized for social improvement found the doors of their houses torched, their phones receiving threats, and their families put on notice that worse things lay in store.
On September 15, 1993—Puglisi's 56th birthday—he was killed in front of his parish church by a single bullet shot at point-blank range
In external ballistics, point-blank range is the distance between a firearm and a target of a given size such that the bullet in flight is expected to strike the target without adjusting the elevation of the firearm. The point-blank range will vary with the firearm and its particular ballistic...
. He was taken unconscious to a local hospital, where surgeons could not revive him. The murder was ordered by the local Mafia bosses, the brothers Filippo and Giuseppe Graviano
Giuseppe Graviano is an Italian mafioso from the Brancaccio quarter in Palermo. He is currently serving several life sentences....
. One of the hitmen who killed Puglisi, Salvatore Grigoli, later confessed and revealed the priest’s last words as his killers approached: "I've been expecting you."
Puglisi's murder shocked Italy. There was an immediate call by eight priests in Palermo for the pope to travel to Palermo to be present at his funeral. Pope John Paul II, however, was scheduled to be in Tuscany on that date and did not attend the memorial service. At the funeral Mass the archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo
Salvatore Pappalardo STD JUD was an Italian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who was Archbishop of Palermo for over 25 years, from 1970 to 1996...
, carefully avoided indicating the Mafia as the suspects in Puglisi's murder, although many had no doubt about Cosa Nostra's involvement.
On April 14, 1998, the Mafiosi Gaspare Spatuzza
Gaspare Spatuzza , is a Sicilian mafioso from the Brancaccio quarter in Palermo. He was a killer for the brothers Filippo and Giuseppe Graviano who headed the Mafia family of Brancaccio. After the arrest of the Gravianos in January 1994, he apparently succeeded them as the regent of the Mafia family...
, Nino Mangano, Cosimo Lo Nigro and Luigi Giacalone received life sentences for the killing of Puglisi. The Graviano brothers also received life sentences for ordering the killing.
During his visit to Sicily in November 1994, Pope John Paul II praised Puglisi as a "courageous exponent of the Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...
." He urged Sicilians not to allow the priest’s death to have been in vain and warned that silence and passivity about the Mafia was tantamount to complicity.
Puglisi's favorite rhetorical question—"And what if somebody did something?"—is scrawled on walls in Brancaccio. In 1999, the Cardinal of Palermo started his beatification
Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name . Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process...
process, proclaiming Puglisi a Servant of God
Servant of God is a title given to individuals by various religions, but in general the phrase is used to describe a person believed to be pious in his or her faith tradition. In the Catholic Church, it designates someone who is being investigated by the Church for possibly being recognized as a...
To underscore this anti-Mafia conviction, he composed a parody of the Our Father in the Sicilian dialect:
Biography and Film
- Deliziosi, Francesco (2001). Don Puglisi: Vita del prete palermitano ucciso dalla mafia, Milan: Mondadori, ISBN 8804553774
- In the Sunlight, a film about the life of Puglisi, by Roberto Faenza
Roberto Faenza is an Italian film director.Born in Turin in 1943, Roberto Faenza received a degree in Political Science and a diploma at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia....
and starring Luca Zingaretti
Luca Zingaretti is an Italian actor, known for playing Salvo Montalbano in Il commissario Montalbano mystery series based on the character and novels created by Andrea Camilleri. Zingaretti is a native of Rome...
, was released in Italy in 2005.
External links Official Site