An Italian judge murdered by the mafia in Sicily took a step towards sainthood Sunday, almost three decades after being declared a martyr by pope John Paul II.
Rosario Livatino was beatified during a mass in the cathedral in Agrigento, the Sicilian town near where he was gunned down aged 38 on September 21, 1990.
A reliquary containing his blood-stained shirt was placed in the cathedral as he was declared "Blessed", while at the Vatican, Pope Francis paid tribute to a "martyr for justice and faith".
"In his service to the common good, as an exemplary judge who never succumbed to corruption, he sought to judge, not to condemn but to redeem," the pope said after delivering the Regina Coeli prayer.
"His work placed him firmly under the protection of God. For this reason, he became a witness to the Gospel until his heroic death."
Livatino, who prayed in church every day before going to court, had been involved in a mass trial against mafioso and was about to launch a new case when he died.
He was found in a ditch by the roadside a few miles from his home. He had refused armed protection.
Many of his notes were later found to be marked STD, for "sub tutela Dei", a Latin invocation meaning "under the protection of God" which judges of the Middle Ages used before taking official decisions.
The notes also showed he asked God's forgiveness for the risks his work exposed his parents to, once he learned that the bosses of the Cosa Nostra had him in their sights.
When John Paul II visited Livatino's parents in 1993, he said the judge was "a martyr for justice and indirectly for the faith".
Under Church law, if martyrdom is established, then beatification -- the penultimate accolade before canonisation -- moves ahead quickly without the proof of miracles required of other candidates for sainthood.
The two mafia members who killed Livatino, identified by a man who drove past at the moment of the crime, were given life sentences.
- Excommunication -
Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square, the pope urged everyone, especially magistrates, to learn from Livatino how to be "faithful defenders of the rule of law and of freedom".
Since his election in 2013, Francis has spoken out repeatedly against organised crime groups.
In an open-air mass in Sicily in September 2018, during a trip to honour a priest killed by the mafia 25 years earlier, the Argentine pontiff condemned those who belong to the mafia as "blasphemous".
"You can't believe in God and belong to the mafia," he said.
His message will be reinforced by a new working group on the "excommunication of the mafia" announced Sunday by the Vatican, which will seek to draw a clear line between Catholicism and organised crime.
Francis' impassioned plea echoed the words of Jean Paul II who, during his May 1993 trip to the island, had also called on mobsters to abandon crime, and urged Sicilians to revolt against the mafia.
Less than two years after Livatino's death, anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were also murdered by the mob.
Livatino was one of the first investigating magistrates in Italy who moved to seize assets belonging to the mafia, according to Luigi Ciotti, a priest known for his own fight against organised crime.
"He understood that would lead to a weakening of the clans, their loss of control and also of social control," Ciotti wrote in another biography of the murdered judge.
Today, a cooperative of young people bears Livatino's name and cultivates land confiscated from the Sicilian mafia.