Pope praises example of mafia-slain Italian priest

On the thirtieth anniversary of the brutal assassination of Father Giuseppe Diana at the hands of the Neapolitan mafia Camorra, Pope Francis urges especially young people to take up his legacy of fighting against organized crime and not to let themselves robbed of hope.

Mar 19, 2024

Father Giuseppe Diana

By Lisa Zengarini
Pope Francis has praised the life and testimony of Italian Father Giuseppe Diana, a parish priest in Casal di Principe, near Naples, thirty years after he was gunned down  by hitmen for his vocal opposition to the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, and his efforts to save youth from organized crime.

A courageous witness against organized crime
In a letter addressed to Bishop Angelo Spinillo of Aversa, the diocese in which Casal di Principe is located, the Pope called Father Diana “a courageous disciple of the Lord”, and thanked God for having given the Church this “good and faithful servant" who “worked prophetically” to serve and defend his people “to the point of sacrificing his own life”.

On March 19, 1994, a gunman burst into the Church of St. Nicholas of Bari where Father Diana - or “Don Peppe” as he was called - was preparing Mass for the feast of St. Joseph, shooting him twice in the head, once in the face, once in the hand and once in the throat.

The brutal execution came on the heels of the 1993 assassination of Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi in the Sicilian city of Palermo at the hands of the Sicilian Mafia “Cosa Nostra”.

In his letter Pope Francis expressed his closeness and encouragement to the entire diocesan community of Aversa and especially to the faithful of Casal di Principe “who, in remembering Don Peppe, want to experience the same hope of walking together living the Christian prophecy, which invites us to build a world free from the yoke of evil and any form of criminal arrogance.”

“Even today the sad story narrated by Sacred Scripture of Cain's first fratricide against his brother Abel repeats. This tragic story retains its relevance when a human being raises his hand to strike another, as happens in the many forms of hatred and abuse that hurt man and sometimes tinge the streets of our neighborhoods and cities in blood.”

The Camorra is incompatible with the Gospel
Pope Francis reminded the faithful, that in the face of that “violence and inhuman arrogance that denies justice and annihilates the dignity of people, Christians are those who proclaim the Gospel and live the vocation to be with Christ a sign of a new humanity, nurtured by fratenity d and communion.”

He recalled that the awareness of this fact led the Bishops of the Campania Region, where the Diocese of Aversa is located, to raise their voice in 1982 and underline “the strident contrast that exists between the false messages of the Camorra and the message of Jesus Christ."

On this significant anniversary, Pope Francis, therefore, invited the faithful of Casal di Principe to strengthen their faith and hope in God, “to welcome His Word and to strive to preserve their determination to build a society, finally purified from sin, and able to dare for a future of harmony and fraternity.”

Don't let yourself be robbed of hope for a better future in your land
Concluding, the Pope made a special appeal to the young people of Casal di Principe, “the beautiful and clean face of this land”, urging them not to let themselves “be robbed of hope, to cultivate high ideals and build a different future”, and to take  Don Peppe's spiritual legacy “to become, in turn, artisans of peace.”

“I urge you, young people, the beautiful and clear face of this land: do not let yourselves be robbed of hope, cultivate high ideals and build a different future with hands not stained with blood but with honest work, without giving in to easy but illusory compromises, taking up Don Peppe's spiritual legacy to become, in turn, artisans of peace.”

“For the love of my people, I will not stay silent” 
Born in 1968 in the same town in which he was killed, before and after his ordination Father Diana was actively involved in Scouting, taught religion and served as the secretary to his bishop, but became especially known for his fight against the Camorra in his region. In 1991 Diana released an anti-mafia letter tiled “For the love of my people, I will not stay silent,” in which he denounced the rule of the Camorra as a “form of terrorism.”

In the wake his murder, there were attempts to derail the police investigation by suggesting the priest had been morally suspect. In the end, however, a local boss was sentenced to life imprisonment for ordering his murder along with the hitmen that executed it. The Diocese of Aversa has established a commission to collect all documents, testimonies and relevant studies for his possible beatification.--Vatican News

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