February 2020 Faith Community Reflection

Bl. Giuseppe Puglisi

Fr Nick Welsh

During my studies in Rome, I happened to come across a fairly unknown Blessed, by the name of Giuseppe Puglisi. He was a priest of the Archdiocese of Palermo who was shot dead by the mafia in 1993 because of his vocal opposition to them and his encouragement of his people, living in a neglected corner of the city, to rise up against their mafia oppressors.

The early nineties were quite some time ago now, and in these days of wokeness and indignation for the Church, perhaps we might like to turn the clock back to those halcyon days when things were, if not great, perhaps a little better than they are now; wokeness had not been conceived, there were a few more priests to share the work, churches were a bit fuller on a Sunday.

If those days seem like the good ol’ days for us, it wasn’t quite the case for Fr Puglisi. He had arrived in the Brancaccio district of Palermo after six of his brother priests refused the appointment. Poverty was rife. Schooling was available only up to the age of 10. The mafia had a grip on every aspect of life, even down to the route of the parish feast day procession.

Fr Pino, as he was known, immediately got down to work; the youth were his priority. He realised that to be able to teach anything, he had first to build relationships with the young people; he had to get to know them, he had to be unproductive in his time with them. He realised also, that there was only ever any hope of introducing these young people to Jesus Christ if they were in it together, if they had friendships which would support and encourage the drama of life as a disciple. When these conditions were met, he began to catechise, usually quite informally through the questions which naturally came from the inquisitive young people. The questions came because they knew him, loved him and were interested in him and the slight enigma which is the priestly vocation.

Fr Pino not only brought them to Jesus Christ, but he taught them to stand up to the oppressive culture in which they lived. We might think that we live fairly remotely from 90s mafia-ridden Palermo, but that might not be the case. The culture of silence and fear created by the mafia said to the ordinary people of Brancaccio, ‘do not say what is true.’ For those who told the truth in Brancaccio, there was a price to pay. Our culture tells us the same. We are no longer permitted to say what is true with regard to many things, and if we do, we will pay for it. The mafia culture also tolerated and used the Church for its own ends. Priests were tolerated by mafiosi because they had to say things against violence and murder and they weren’t any great threat; only old ladies went to Mass and they weren’t going to be doing anything to stop the mafia. But the Church was also used by the mafia to stroke its collective ego. The bosses would take the places of honour at the festal processions, statues of the local saints would bow at the doors of mafia dons as processions passed. The mafia cared not for the Church, but tolerated it and used it for its own sake. Our culture does the same. Politicians who despise the Church are given the front seats in our cathedrals at civic occasions. The Church is tolerated so long as it keeps banging on about climate change and alleviating poverty, but has no right to say anything about any non-right-on matter with which our woke liege lords disagree.

With all of this in mind, it seems to me that Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi would make a perfect patron of the Faith Movement; he worked to bring young people to the Lord through relationship and catechesis, and he enabled them to stand up to a poisonous culture not much different to our own. I’m sure we have an intercessor in heaven in him. Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi, priest and martyr, pray for us!