Pino Puglisi: Priest and Martyr

Giancarlo Pani SJ

 Giancarlo Pani SJ / Church Life / 8 November 2018

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“The Gospel, the Mafia, the frontiers”: a few words that summarize “who Father Pino Puglisi, the parish priest of Brancaccio killed on September 15, 1993, really was. He was a man of unshakable faith and a master of spirituality, an educator of young people and a reference point for families, but also a frontier priest who, in order not to betray fidelity to the Gospel, knew how to live out his choices in a Mafia-dominated territory, even to the ultimate sacrifice. On May 25, 2013, the Church acknowledged him as a martyr and proclaimed him blessed.”[1] Fr. Puglisi is the first parish priest of the Catholic Church to be proclaimed blessed for martyrdom perpetrated by the Mafia.[2]

Giuseppe Puglisi was born in Palermo, Brancaccio, on September 15, 1937, into a modest family. His father was a shoemaker, his mother was a dressmaker. He entered the seminary at the age of 16, and became a priest on July 2, 1960. His first assignment was as assistant priest in the parish of the Holy Sacrament in Settecannoli, near Brancaccio; then rector of the church of San Giovanni dei Lebbrosi, chaplain of the Roosevelt orphanage and assistant priest of the Parish of Maria SS. Assunta in Valdesi, Palermo. From 1970 to 1978 he was parish priest in Godrano. After 1979 he held various positions: he was pro-rector of the minor seminary, director of the diocesan center for vocations, and as of 1990 parish priest of Brancaccio. From 1978 to 1993 he taught religion at the Liceo Classico Vittorio Emanuele II in Palermo. He was the animator of various movements (Azione Cattolica, Fuci, Équipes Notre Dame) and after 1990 had been in charge of the Casa Madonna dell’accoglienza and the Opera pia del Cardinale Ruffini for single mothers in difficulty[3]

Murdered “because he was a priest”

September 15, 1993, was the birthday of Fr. Pino Puglisi. The parish priest of San Gaetano in the Brancaccio district of Palermo turned 56. It was the evening of a long day, the last of his life. In the morning he had celebrated two marriages, in the afternoon he had prepared the children of the First Communion group for Confession; then a small party at the “Padre Nostro” center, a place created to welcome street children. The church had no rooms for parish activities, not even a rectory.

On his return home in Piazzale Anita Garibaldi, as Fr. Pino was about to open his door, suddenly, “Spatuzza [a member of the Mafia] took his bag from him and said: ‘Father, this is a robbery.’ Puglisi replied: ‘I was expecting it.’ He said it with a smile, a smile that has remained with me.” And he concludes: “I then shot him in the nape of his neck.”[4]

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