Thursday 28 September 2017

do something

On foot to Brancaccio, a notoriously disaffected suburb just south of the old city of Palermo, towards the church of Padre Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Puglisi: a Roman Catholic priest who in the early 1990s was outspoken in his criticism of the church for its silence towards organized crime, and openly confronted the pervasive mafia presence in his San Gaetano parish. 

As a community priest renowned for his patience and good humour, Puglisi focused on trying to foster the cultural and social conditions for a gradual erosion of fearful acquiescence and omertà, establishing recreational facilities and educational support for young people that affirmed possibilities other than that of criminality, and, from the pulpit, quietly insisting on the incompatibility of Christian values with criminal activity. 

Provocatively in this context, he marked the anniversary of Paolo Borsellino’s death with a commemorative mass, and invited members of the Antimafia Commission to a school debate. In the face of repeated threats, he refused donations for religious festivals from those in odore di mafia, and rejected a mafia construction contract for church repairs; the doors of the church were firebombed. 

Finally, on the morning of 15 September 1993, his 56th birthday, the embattled priest was shot at close range outside his home beside the church. According to one of his killers who turned state witness after arrest, as they approached him he smiled and said, “I have been expecting you” ('Me lo aspettavo’). His well-known rhetorical question, an interrogative challenge to inertia, passivity and tacit complicity that is still associated with him, was taken up and echoed in graffiti around Brancaccio and elsewhere: “E sé qualcuno fa qualche cosa?” ('And what if someone were to do something?')

In the summer of 2012, the Vatican formally recognised Puglisi’s ‘martyrdom’, and set in motion the process of his beatification as a saint.

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