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Mafia-murdered priest declared a martyr

2012-06-28 22:28

Rome - A Sicilian priest who was murdered by the Mafia in 1993 was declared a martyr by Pope Benedict XVI, a step toward sainthood, the Vatican said in a statement on Thursday.

The pope authorised 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 organised 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.

He had worked in Palermo's Mafia-controlled Brancaccio neighbourhood, trying to help youngsters stay away from the Mafia.

He publicly addressed the problem of organised 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, but 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.

Benedict XVI also authorised 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.