The archdiocese of Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, banned for three years godparents at baptism and godfathers at confirmation. Other Sicilian dioceses are planning similar steps. “In the land of the godfather comes a ban on them” was the appropriate title in The New York Times. The archdiocese instituted the ban due to the entanglement of sponsors with Mafia patronage in Sicily.
The cinematic splendor of the baptismal sequence in The Godfather, with Michael Corleone professing the baptismal creed as his henchmen execute rivals, can make the scandal of it all almost appealing, if not beautiful. Real life is a little bloodier than that, and the Catholic Church in Sicily, after a very long time, is trying to do something concrete to eliminate that. scandal.
Rosario Livatino was confirmed on October 29, 1988. He was old to be confirmed and young to be a judge. At thirty-five, the brilliant young prosecutor had made a daily habit of stopping at the local church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. His faith matures and deepens through his daily devotion and leads him to prepare carefully for the sacrament of confirmation. Although its confirmation was late in life, it certainly paid off in courageous Christian witness.
Ten months later, in August 1989, he was appointed magistrate in Agrigento, Sicily. Admirers and detractors alike called him the âboy judgeâ of his youth.
It was the era of “Tangentopoli” – “city of bribes” or “Bribesville” – the sprawling criminal investigation into organized crime in Italian politics. It was a huge cultural, political and legal earthquake. The intimate and corrupt relationship that has lasted for generations between mafia and the political class was upset by crusading prosecutors and judges like Livatino who, in continental style, also had an investigative role.
Thirteen months after being elevated to the bench, on September 21, 1990, he was murdered by the Mafia, her car was forced off the road on her way to work. When he got out of the car, the hitmen shot him dead.
The assassination of Livatino – and anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992 – devastated Italy. In May 1993, Saint John Paul II made a pastoral visit to Sicily. The assassinations were fresh in everyone’s mind. What would he say?
On May 9, 1993, he celebrated an open-air mass in the evocative Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Before Mass, the Holy Father met the parents of Rosario, still in mourning for their son. The meeting deeply moved Jean-Paul. After mass, in improvised words, he denounced the Mafia by name as a “civilization of death”.
âIn the name of the crucified and risen Christ, of Christ who is the way, the truth and the life, I say to those responsible: convert! cried Jean-Paul, trembling with just anger. âGod’s judgment will come! “
The mafia took note. And answered.
In July 1993, they bombarded the cathedral of the popes in Rome: Saint John Lateran, mother and head of all the churches in the city and in the world. It was a spectacular response, an enormity, a real sacrilege against the house of the Lord, like their sacrilegious reception of the sacraments within.
In September 1993, mafia killed Palermo’s most prominent anti-Mafia priest, Don Pino Puglisi. His last words: âI was waiting for you. The Mafia made him pay with its blood the anathema of the Pope.
The murders of Livatino, Falcone, Borsellino, Puglisi, the blasphemous bombardment of the cathedral of Rome, all this touched Italy to the heart. It was the beginning of the end of the leading, sometimes dominant, role of the Mafia in Italian society.
Father Pino Puglisi was beatified as a martyr in 2013. Rosario Livatino was also beatified earlier this year, on the precise anniversary (May 9) of John Paul’s meeting with his parents in Agrigento. The feast of Blessed Pino is observed on October 21, the date of his baptism, and the feast of Blessed Rosario is set for October 29, the date of his confirmation. Today is the first liturgical celebration of his feast.
When the police came to the body of Blessed Rosario, they found her daily agenda. He had written on the pages the acronym “STD” for Under Tutela Dei, “under the protection of God”. An appropriate reproach to the mafia which offers exploitation under the guise of “protection”.
Together, the mafia martyrs lived the true mission of baptism and confirmation; they honored their sacraments rather than corrupting them. The ban on mafia godfathers could encourage Sicilians to turn instead to heavenly patrons, authentic witnesses of the meaning of Christian initiation.
Raymond J. de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario.
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