A Sicilian cardinal and a saintly priest take on the Mob

A Sicilian cardinal and a saintly priest take on the Mob

John Allen: “A Sicilian lesson in the complex bond between bishops and saints”

Saints and bishops, as any student of church history knows, often have a curious love/hate relationship. Saints can be irritating figures, with a single-minded focus and a capacity to arouse controversy that rarely makes life easy. Bishops, likewise, can sometimes inadvertently become obstacles to sanctity rather than conduits for it, with their management concerns and a desire not to “rock the boat.” (This notwithstanding the fact that many bishops have themselves been saints.)

At the end of the day, bishops and saints need one another – bishops, to remind saints that no force in the church ever exists for itself; and saints to remind bishops that ultimately the church exists for the gospel, and not the other way around.

... We had a reminder of the point this week with the death on Dec. 10 of Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo at the age of 88. Pappalardo, who led the Archdiocese of Palermo from 1970 to 1996, was known far and wide as Italy’s “anti-mafia bishop.”

By all accounts, Pappalardo’s leadership was instrumental in galvanizing anti-mafia resistance in Sicilian society. He was the driving force behind the memorable declaration of the Sicilian bishops in 1994: “The mafia is part of the reign of sin, and those who belong to it are agents of the Evil One. Whoever is part of the mafia is outside ecclesial communion.” ... Yet it did not always seem that Pappalardo was destined to be an anti-mafia hero. During much of the 1970s and 1980s, while the mafia’s dominance of Sicilian politics, finance, culture, and even the judiciary remained an open secret, Pappalardo was not outspoken.

Then, along came Fr. Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi, pastor of San Gaetano’s Parish in the rough Palermo neighborhood of Brancaccio.

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Domenico Bettinelli