Here’s an interesting story about a modern-day saint-to-be. Don Pino Puglisi had been parish priest of a mafia stronghold for 3 years when he was gunned down in 1993.

His assassination was the ironic culmination of his mission to re-evangelise Sicily and exorcise it of organised crime. His murder unleashed a popular backlash against the Mafia from which it hasn’t recovered. Still, within days of news breaking about his impending beatification, police thwarted a serious bomb attempt against a centre Don Pino founded. “The task of exorcism” is ongoing.

Don Pino interests me for his example of “loyal reform” of the Church. Sometimes I get so fed up with the barrage of internal dissent against the Church, that I’m tempted to present a reactionary defence of all things ecclesial. But that in itself is an act of disloyalty. The Church is in constant need of reform, which no saint failed to recognise and engage in.

Don Pino was well known for his sense of humour, and at times even made light of the lack of support from the Church hierarchy. He was ordained by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini from Palermo, who was said to regard communism as a greater threat than the Mafia and once even questioned the latter’s very existence. According to the National Catholic Reporter, when asked by a journalist, “What is the Mafia?” the cardinal flippantly replied: “So far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent.”

Don Pino saw it as necessary to challenge such attitudes, but to do it sensitively. “We can, we must criticize the Church when we feel it doesn’t respond to our expectations, because it’s absolutely right to seek to improve it,” he said, jokingly adding: “But we should always criticize it like a mother, never a mother-in-law!”

I’ll have to learn more about Don Pino. I might start by watching his biopic, In the Sunlight. Anyone know where I can get a copy?