John Paul II remembered for confronting Italian mafia

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Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington D.C., Oct 2, 2013. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.

Days before the canonization of Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini of Campobasso-Boiano, Italy, recalled the fiery warning the Polish Pope delivered to the Italian mafia during a visit to the region 21 years ago.

During a visit to Sicily on May 9, 1993, the future saint delivered an impromptu speech after celebrating Mass at the Valley of the Temples in Argrigento.

“The Sicilian people, who are so rooted in life, who love life and give life, cannot forever live under the pressure of a contrary civilization of death. A civilization of life is needed. In the name of the crucified and risen Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life, I say to those responsible: be converted, one day the judgment of God will come!” John Paul II exclaimed.

“You must understand that you cannot kill the innocent. God once said, 'Thou shalt not kill.' No man, no human organization, no mafia can kill or stamp out this most holy right of God!” he added.

John Paul II's former personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, said in 2011 that the late pontiff “got truly angry only twice in his life,” and one of those times was in Agrigento, “when he denounced the mafia.”

In statements to EWTN News, Archbishop Bregantini said the remarks signified “a very important and beautiful moment that changed history and gave strength to the activity against the mafia.”

The canonization of John Paul II is “the stamp of a 25-year-long pontificate, but also of the many social battles that his Pope won: bringing down the wall, giving dignity and making today's world a place of hope and peace,” he said.

Archbishop Bregantini said the Pope's words “gave courage to Father Pino Pugliesi,” who was killed by assassins months later, on Sept. 15, 1993, outside his parish in Palermo.

Fr. Pugliesi's commitment thwarted the mafia's plans to continue using children in Palermo to distribute heroin and other drugs. A home he built in the city saved hundreds of children from falling into the mafia's control.

On June 28, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the priest's martyrdom and proclaimed him a blessed.

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