Italy honors mafia victims in Holy Thursday Mass

ROME – An Italian association dedicated to keeping alive the memory of victims of mafia violence have donated oil produced at the site where two judges were killed to several Italian dioceses for the annual Holy Thursday Chrism Mass.

Chrism is the sacred oil used to anoint faithful in the Church’s sacraments, such as Baptism, Confirmation, and the Anointing of the Sick.

Each year during Holy Week, which precedes Easter and is the holiest week on the Church’s calendar, a special Chrism Mass is held in each diocese in which the oils that will be used in the sacraments for the upcoming year are blessed.

Pope Francis will hold his Chrism Mass at 9:30a.m. local time in St. Peter’s Basilica, and he will later preside over the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a women’s detention center in Rome, during which he will wash the feet of 12 inmates.

In Sicily, the Quarto Savona Quindidi Association, established to commemorate victims of mafia violence, has given several dioceses vials of oil produced from a grove planted at the site of an infamous 1992 mafia massacre to local Italian dioceses to be blessed during their Chrism Masses.

The attack took place May 23, 1992, in the Sicilian town of Capaci, where an explosion killed Italian judge and prosecuting magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo, and three police escort agents: Antonio Montinaro, Rocco Dicillo and Vito Schifani.

Two months later, another Italian judge and prosecuting magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, was killed by the mafia in Palermo, along with several escorting agents.

Established by Tina Montinaro, the widow of one of the police officers who died in the attack that killed Falcone, the Quarto Savona Quindici Association is named after the radio code of the state police car escorting Falcone when the attack took place.

According to its website, the association is dedicated to “keeping alive the memory of the Capaci massacre” of 1992, and “transforming the pain into concrete action.”

As part of the association’s initiatives, they planted an olive grove at the site of the 1992 explosion in Capaci. Each of the olive trees in the grove is named for a victim of mafia violence.

Police commissioners and representatives of the local state police have been delivering the vials of oil that will be consecrated on Holy Thursday to the bishops of the local Italian dioceses selected to receive the donation.

Over the weekend, the Police Commissioner of the Sicilian town of Enna, Salvatore Fazzino, delivered vials of the oil to Bishop Rosario Gisana of Piazza Armerina and to Bishop Giuseppe Schillaci of Nicosia.

The list of local churches involved in the initiative is long and includes the dioceses where the 106 offices of the state police are located.

In Italy, the Church is on the frontlines of the fight against organized crime, with several priests having been killed for their anti-mafia advocacy.

Historically, the Catholic Church in Italy has at times been faulted for being quiescent and even accepting of the mob, however, in recent decades it has become increasingly identified with a strong anti-mafia stance.

In the span of six months in the mid-1990s, two famed anti-mafia priests in southern Italy were assassinated by the mob. The first was Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi, who was killed in Palermo in September 1993, and the second was Father Giuseppe “Peppe” Diana, who was gunned down in the sacristy of his parish in Casal di Principe while preparing for Mass on March 19, 1994.

Pope Francis paid homage to Puglisi last year in a letter marking the 30th anniversary of the priest’s assassination.

In his August 2023 letter, the pope called Puglisi a “good priest and merciful witness of the Father,” saying he offered his people “the regenerating water of the Gospel” to help them go forward amid “the harshness of a life which has not always been forgiving.”

Puglisi was beatified in 2013, making him the first mafia victim to officially be recognized by the Catholic Church as a martyr.

Similarly, in a letter published March 19 marking the 30th anniversary of Diana’s murder, Francis called him a “courageous disciple of the Lord,” and thanked God for giving the Church this “good and faithful servant” who he said worked “prophetically” to defend his people, “to the point of sacrificing his own life.”

Italian bishops throughout the country, but primarily in the underdeveloped south, where mafia activity tends to be most widespread, hailed the January 2023 arrest of infamous Italian mobster Matteo Messina Denaro, hailed as Sicily’s “last godfather” and once described by Forbes as among the top 10 most wanted and powerful criminals in the world.

Among the most high-profile crimes Denaro is associated with are the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino, and the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy named Giuseppe Di Matteo in 1993, who was murdered three years later.

Denaro’s arrest was seen as a significant blow to Italy’s criminal underworld, and it galvanized anti-mafia efforts in a region that is still plagued by mafia activity.

Southern Italy’s fight against the mafia is still so strong that the regional bishops’ conference of Campania last year announced the establishment of a special diocesan commission to support and guide priests involved in anti-mafia efforts.

Both Puglisi and Diana are commemorated annually throughout the country, and Italy’s national broadcaster RAI has produced films about each.

Pope Francis himself visited the parish of San Gaetano where Puglisi lived and died during a 2018 visit to Palermo.

The gift of the oil from the Quarto Savona Quindici Association to the Church shows just what a strong point of reference the Church has become for Italy’s anti-mafia movement.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen

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