A lesson learnt from Mafia victims

The Italian media is well known for often airing films, series, and even whole seasons of stories (true or fictitious) that revolve around the Sicilian Mafia.  Back in the 80s, I remember my parents watching ‘La Piovra’, and as I grew older I joined them in watching similar films whenever these were shown. As is/was the case with films about the Jewish Holocaust, stories of such violence, hatred and pain used to move me and compelled me to ask several questions and encouraged me to read and reflect more on the subject. I also remember, albeit vaguely, Giovanni Falcone’s massacre on the news whose life story became clearer when his life was portrayed in yet another film as were the lives of others who, like him, were assassinated by the Mafia. These include well-known personalities (such as Paolo Borsellino and General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa) and lesser-known individuals, such as the police and security escorts and countless civilians that also included children.

A few weeks ago, Rai Uno premiered a new film about Falcone’s and Borsellino’s predecessor – Rosso Chinnici which was based on his daughter, Caterina Chinnici’s, autobiography. Caterina was also a lawyer and later a magistrate and just a few days before her father’s assassination she was also asked to take care of Mafia proceedings. In a very significant and touching scene Caterina goes to her father to let him know about this proposal and tells him that she has not yet decided what to do. At that exact moment she looks at her father, who had been investigating the Mafia for several years and who was very much aware that he was the next one in line after Dalla Chiesa’s murder, and asks him: “But why are we doing this? What is it worth?”. He looks at her and tells her – “I have no regrets, I would do it all over again”. This short exchange between father and daughter moved me deeply and I kept ruminating on it for the days following.

He looks at her and tells her – “I have no regrets, I would do it all over again”.

Rocco Chinnici – like Falcone, Borsellino and so many other Mafia victims – had beautiful families, loving wives and young children. They knew all too well the risks involved in dealing with the Mafia; murders were the order of the day and all those who, like them, were at the centre of these investigations were being threatened and assassinated. To me it seemed obvious to reiterate Caterina’s questions ‘Why did they do this’? ‘What is it worth’? Why did they not ask for a transfer and work as magistrates in other provinces? Why did they not choose their wives and daughters over the Mafia investigations and proceedings? Why did they not hesitate in the face of a reality that was becoming increasingly clear: that sooner or later they were bound to be brutally assassinated? Why choose certain death over the possibility of growing old with their loved ones? Why?

I believe this question has no easy answer. However, I also believe that part of the answer lies in the flame of truth and justice that ardently burned within these heroes’ hearts. I am sure that they knew all too well the risks they ran day after day simply because they were doing their job. I am sure that they knew that the deeper they delved into their investigations, it became all the clearer that this could eventually lead to their assassination and consequently to heartache for their families. I also believe they knew that what they were doing was at times only a drop in the ocean, and that so much else still needed to be done for this reality to be eradicated from Sicily and beyond. However, they were also firm in the awareness that their conscience would not have been quiet had they chosen to be transferred or quit the fight. Thus, they continued to do it, never losing heart, and never losing hope.

 Why preach and share the Good News, when people around us tell us they are happy as they are and shrug off the need for God and his Word?

Why preach and share the Good News, when people around us tell us they are happy as they are and shrug off the need for God and his Word?

Certain questions resonate in us because they strike a familiar chord and, thus I set myself to ask why such a question (the ‘why’ of what they did) left me intrigued and even disturbed. It was not difficult to come to a sincere answer. As Christians, I feel that we are also often confronted with such questions ‘Why are we doing what we do’? ‘Is it worth doing it’? Why do good when we know that this is not a guarantee against a difficult or turbulent life due to illnesses, family difficulties, problems at our place of work, persecutions, and the like? Why love – as Jesus loved, by giving our lives to others – when we know that we may not be understood, appreciated, our love reciprocated? Why invest so much time and energy in relationships when we may end up disappointed, betrayed, and forsaken? Why marry and strive to remain faithful to our spouses ‘for better and for worse, in sickness and in health’ when we know that at times this will ask of us a total death of the self and a self-gift that involves a kenosis so taxing that at times it makes us feel as if we are going to be consumed by it? Why bring children to life, give our lives to them, give them the best education and opportunities when we know that even one person – under the guise of being a ‘good’ person – can corrupt them and send them into a spiral of shame, depression and insecurity (such as in the case of Larry Nassar and the 150 girls that he corrupted along the years), or else because they themselves choose a different path in which they reject all that we have taught and given them with so much sacrifice and care? Why remain active members of Catholic communities and spend our ever-limited free time doing voluntary work when the people around us do not show appreciation, regard us with suspicion, do not understand the cost of discipleship, or simply view us as ‘weird’ individuals who do not know how to enjoy life? Why carry on standing for what is right, when others label us bigots for doing so? Why preach and share the Good News, when people around us tell us they are happy as they are and shrug off the need for God and his Word? Why follow Jesus Christ when we know that the reality of Golgotha is a far more frequent occurrence in our lives than the reality of the Tabor?

In the films about Rocco Chinnici, Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and other Mafia victims, nothing is said of their religious adherence or about whether their unshakeable courage and determination were religiously motivated. I do not think they were. And, it is precisely this reality that has taught me an important lesson. These men, these heroes, were ready to fight in this life even without the conviction that justice would eventually take place either on earth or beyond. The flame that burned within them was strong enough for them to face Golgotha even without a clear awareness of the Resurrection that we, as Christians, know follows it.

They were also firm in the awareness that their conscience would not have been quiet had they chosen to be transferred or quit the fight

Consequently, I hope that by their example and determination we find the necessary strength to go on doing what is good, fighting for what is right, searching and defending what we believe is true and beautiful even though, perhaps, we may only glimpse little, if any, of the fruit of our efforts and perseverance. My hope is that we may live this life in the perspective of the Resurrection and that even while carrying the cross to Golgotha, even while painfully understanding the weight of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words when he wrote that ‘when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die’ (cf. The Cost of Discipleship) even in moments when we doubt whether love is truly ‘as strong as death’ (cf. Song of Songs) may we in such moments never bend our heads too low in desolation so as not to glimpse the light of the Resurrection that lies beyond.

I thank these heroes for teaching me this lesson especially during those final moments of their lives in which they stared death in the face but at the same time doing so in a courageous and steadfast way, since they were serenely grounded in the conviction that they ‘fought the good fight’, ‘finished the race’ and – even though unawares – and, perhaps, in a different way, they have also ‘kept the faith’. (2 Timothy 4, 7)

Mariella studied at the University of Malta, where she obtained a Master of Arts in Theology in 2007. She teaches Religion in a Church School. Mariella is a board member of the Pastoral Formation Institute, in which she also teaches, and is also the secretary of the diocese's ecumenical commission. She is also currently very much involved in pastoral work at the Sgħajtar pastoral centre in Naxxar especially in the areas of liturgy and catechism for the family.

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