BL. GIUSEPPE "PINO" PUGLISI (1937- 1993) was a priest in the rough Palermo neighborhood of Brancaccio (Sicily). He openly challenged the Mafia who controlled the neighborhood, and was killed by them on his 56th birthday.
Dom Pino was born in Brancaccio, a working-class neighborhood in 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. He was ordained as a priest in 1960 by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini from Palermo. Ruffini regarded Communism 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 Dom Pino 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 humor, he added: "But we should always criticize it like a mother, never a mother-in-law!"
In 1990, Dom Pino returned to his old neighborhood becoming the priest of San Gaetano's Parish. He spoke out against the Mafia who controlled the area and opened a shelter for underprivileged children. He was offered other parishes by the local curia, in less troublesome Palermo neighborhoods, but he opted for San Gaetano.
With little support from the Palermo archdiocese, he tried to change his parishioners' mentality, which was conditioned by fear, passivity and omerta (imposed silence). In his sermons, he pleaded to give leads to authorities about the Mafia's illicit activities in the area, even if they could not actually name names. He refused their money when offered for the traditional feast day celebrations, and would not allow the Mafia "men of honor" 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. 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 he was killed in front of his parish church by a single bullet shot at point-blank range. The murder was ordered by the local Mafia bosses, the brothers Filippo and Giuseppe Graviano. One of the hit men who killed Puglisi, Salvatore Grigoli, later confessed and revealed the priest’s last words as his killers approached: "I've been expecting you".
During his visit to Sicily in November 1994, Pope John Paul II praised Bl. Giuseppe as a "courageous exponent of the Gospel." 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.
To underscore this anti-Mafia conviction, Dom Pino composed a parody of the Our Father in the Sicilian dialect:
"O Godfather to me and my family, You are a man of honor and worth. Your name must be respected. Everyone must obey You. Everyone must do what You say for this is the law of those who do not wish to die. You give us bread, work; who wrongs You, pays. Do not pardon; it is an infamy. Those who speak are spies. I put my trust in You, Godfather. Free me from the police and the law."