VATICAN CITY—A Sicilian priest who was murdered by the Mafia in 1993 was declared a martyr Thursday by Pope Benedict XVI, a step toward sainthood, the Vatican said in a statement.
The pope authorized the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints to issue a decree naming Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi a martyr for being “killed in hatred of the faith in Palermo.”
Puglisi, who was known as an outspoken opponent of organized crime, was gunned down in front of his home. Two local Mafia bosses, Filippo and Giuseppe Graviano, were convicted of ordering the killing and sentenced to life in prison in 2001 and 1999 respectively.
He had worked in Palermo’s Mafia-controlled Brancaccio neighborhood, trying to help youngsters stay away from the Mafia.
He publicly addressed the problem of organized crime and his murderer later declared that when he fired a bullet in the nape of his neck the priest said with a smile, “I expected this.”
There is strong support in Sicily for Puglisi to be made a saint. For that to happen, the Church would have to attribute miraculous works to him.
However, for a “martyr of the faith” to be made a saint no miracle is needed.
The pope also authorized a decree recognizing the “heroic virtues” of Spanish bishop Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, who died in 1994 after succeeding Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer as the head of conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei.
Escriva de Balaguer, who died in 1975, was canonized in 2002 by John Paul II.
Benedict XVI also authorized the Congregation to publish decrees allowing the beatification soon of 155 martyrs of Spain’s 1936-39 civil war.
John Paul II started the tradition of collective beatifications of “martyrs of the faith,” notably of clerics killed by republican forces during the civil war when the Roman Catholic Church sided with general Francisco Franco who was to rule Spain with an iron hand until his death in 1975.