“I’ve been expecting you.”
These were the last words of Blessed Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi on September 15th, 1993 – his 56th birthday – just before he was killed outside his home by a single bullet shot from point-blank range.
Puglisi was born in the rough working-class neighborhood of Palermo in Italy in 1937 to a family of modest means, his father a shoemaker and his mother a dressmaker. At the age of just 16, he entered the seminary and was ordained at 22.
He was ordained by Cardinal Ruffini, also from Palermo. Ruffini downplayed the threat of the Mafia, questioning their very existence and saying “so far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent.”
Father Pino, knowing the violence of the mafia all too well, responded in turn by saying: “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 – but we should always criticize it like a mother, never a mother-in-law!”
30 years later, Pino returned to his old neighborhood and became the pastor of San Gaetano’s Parish despite being offered parishes in less crime-stricken areas.
He became an Antimafia champion, encouraging his parishioners to change their mentality of fear, passivity, and silence. His sermons included pleas to give leads to authorities about the Mafias doings and encouragements for children to stay in school and stay out of trouble. He refused to let the Mafia lead religious processions even when offered money, and once even declined a contract by a Mafia-led construction company to restore his church.
His works angered the Mafia, who sent assassins to his home and had him killed to the shock of all of Italy.
When Pope Saint John Paul II visited Sicily a little over a year later, he praised Pino as a “courageous exponent of the Gospel” and urged them not to let his death be in vain, echoing Pino’s message the silence is tantamount to complicity.
In 1999, Pino was proclaimed a Servant of God and in 2012 Benedict XVI said he was killed “in hatred of the faith,” paving the way for his beatification by Pope Francis in 2013 who condemned the Mafia and called him “an exemplary priest and a martyr.”
Pino left an Antimafia legacy that persists to this day. His favorite rhetorical phrase – se ognuno fa qualcosa, allora si può fare molto meaning if everyone does something, then we can do a lot – is scrawled on walls all over his home town.