A dark moment in Italian contemporary history, it was a year after Italy’s ruling political class had been implicated in the infamous “Bribesville” scandal.
It was a year after Italians had begun to lose faith in their political system and social fabric. The dream of Italy’s economic miracle, with a “Benetton on every corner in Manhattan” (as one of my professors marveled a few years earlier), was coming to an end.
In 1993, the Mafia did something that seemed to break with its own “code of conduct,” however abominable it were: members of Cosa Nostra killed a priest in Palermo — something unthinkable at the time.
Padre Pino Puglisi (known affectionately as “3P”) had openly defied the Mafia in an economically challenged Palermo neighborhood where it recruited and trafficked kids from the streets: Brancaccio, a proletariat community where youth prospects dwindled in step with Italy’s fading promise of prosperity.
Today he is remembered as “the priest who smiled at his killers.”
Father Pino ran a community youth outreach program in Brancaccio and he lobbied and spoke out aggressively against the Mafia’s unyielding grip on the neighborhood.
Educator, television personality, and screenwriter Alessandro D’Avenia was one of his theology students. His 2014 novel, Ciò che inferno non è, a fictionalized account of Padre Pino’s story, was a best seller in Italy.
My translation of his book, What Hell Isn’t, has just been published in England by One World.
As wine lovers, we spend so much energy hawing and humming about this natural wine from Sicily or that, but we hardly take time out to examine the immense and often insurmountable difficulties of growing up poor in Sicily’s cities.
I highly recommend it to you. Not because I translated it but because it offers perspective into the human tragedy that plays out in Sicily’s urban streets every day.
Top image: screenshot via the blog Tra il cuore e la mente.