Fr. Pino Puglisi was a priest of the Diocese of Palermo, Italy, who was killed by the mafia on September 15th, 1993, on the day of his 56th birthday and on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. When interrogated during the trial, one of the killers said that Fr. Pino’s last words when he saw them approaching were “I’ve been waiting for you”.
Fr. Pino was well aware that the help he had been offering to the people of his parish was a real disturbance to the mafia establishment. Since his arrival at the Brancaccio neighborhood three years prior, he had tirelessly been preaching to his people that they could say “no” to violence and thus be freed from the slavery of ignorance and criminality.
He knew that a Gospel preached and lived out in its radicality could have been uncomfortable and would have created enemies. Despite all of this, Fr. Pino accepted the risk, because he knew that the Gospel teachings are to be followed no matter what. His death was a clear testimony that the voice of justice and truth speaks all the louder in the face of any attempts to silence it. A process of Beatification has now began for this modern martyr of the Catholic Church.
Every time we speak of justice and righteousness, we need to understand what Jesus intends. Too often we run the risk of stopping at a very horizontal understanding of justice, namely that of defending human rights or securing that everyone is treated justly and with equality when it comes to the law. It is certainly praiseworthy to see people working hard to achieve these goals. Yet, when Jesus speaks about justice, he does it from a divine perspective. When Jesus speaks of justice, He portrays it in such a way that would make our heads spin if we were truly able to understand that behind every effort on our part, there corresponds the action of the Holy Spirit present and active in human history.
From a human standpoint, justice means to give someone what is their right; from a divine perspective, justice is always linked to mercy. Thus, in His justice, God gives us what He in His mercy has decreed belongs to us, and that is His very self. This type of gift, whose value is incomprehensible to our human nature, clearly goes beyond any possible criteria of human justice. God the Father has given us His Son, and in this gift He gave all of Himself. The completeness of the gift was made clear on the Cross, where it became obvious that there was nothing that God was withholding from us, nothing that could limit His gift.
If we look at it closely, we soon realize that when divine justice intervenes into human history, it does so to offer the ultimate sign of mercy. We can see it clearly in the reality of purgatory, where souls suffer their last purification in order to be made ready to stand in God’s presence. Purgatory is the ultimate act of God’s mercy, who gives us one last chance to purify the clumsy and imperfect love with which we tried to perfect here on earth. It is both an act of justice (which responds to our lack of readiness to see God face to face), and an act of mercy from a Father who is unwilling to lose us.
This is why when we talk about how to live out justice and how to accept the inevitable persecution that accompanies it, we have to keep in mind the high value of this Gospel teaching, of a love that reaches all without exception, not only the poor and those discriminated against, but even those who perpetrate evil. Looking at the lives of the saints who fought for social justice, like Fr. Pino Puglisi, we realize that the fight to proclaim the Gospel’s teachings was all consuming, touching the lives of victims as well as criminals, with a generosity that was meant to imitate the magnanimity of the Father’s heart. And they all shared a strong certainty that God would reach way beyond where our human strength can take us. Those who have been martyred for the sake of justice never gave up, even in the face of apparent defeat. They were well aware that they were relying on God and considered themselves like simple pencils in God’s hands. Just as Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say, they were ready to witness that God can write straight on crooked lines.
Let us ask Our Lady of Sorrows, who so tenderly embraced Fr. Pino Puglisi on the day of his ultimate witnessing, to also protect us in our desire to serve the cause of justice with a generous heart, open to give others what is theirs, without compromises or fears.
I ask God for the grace of a generous heart, and that I work to bring justice in a situation that lacks it.