by Bluto Ray
“Don Puglisi would not be proud of the Sicily of today, a Sicily that doesn't show more indignation,” declared a conservative politician last week at a gathering to commemorate a much loved priest. “The truth is that the Sicily of today isn’t worthy of the martyrs who fought the Mafia.” He berated the island’s young people as “dormant” and “embarrassing.”
But the politico’s words rang hollow later that evening as hundreds of teens took to the streets—along with parents, grandparents and teachers—in a torchlight procession to the spot where the cleric was murdered for his opposition to the Mafia.
The name of Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi will be forever associated with Brancaccio, a beat-up fringe of Palermo whose impoverished denizens are doubly cursed by urban decay and Cosa Nostra crossfire. Wedged between cliff and sea, railroad and freeway, smoggy Brancaccio sits in a historic battle zone of mafiosi.
Fearsome hoods like Michele “The Pope” Greco, Pietro “Little Mister” Aglieri and Stefano “The Falcon” Bontade trafficked and killed from Ciaculli to the south to Santa Maria del Gesù to the west. The atmosphere of violence and crime led the Sicilian-born Puglisi to take over the godforsaken parish in 1990, turning down plum assignments in richer neighborhoods despite his illustrious thirty-year career.