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Rosario Livatino: Not even criminal defendants spoke badly of martyred judge

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Rome Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Rosario Livatino, a young judge who was killed in 1990 by the mafia for his efforts to combat organized crime in Sicily, always treated the accused in his court with kindness.

According to a former classmate of Livatino’s, defendants in cases judged by the young magistrate were surprised by the courtesy with which he treated them. Livatino would always shake their hand before and after an interrogation, for example.

The judge was killed on Sept. 21, 1990, at the age of 37. He was driving unescorted toward the Agrigento courthouse, where he had served as a judge since the year before, when another car hit him, sending him off the road. He ran from the crashed vehicle into a field, but was shot in the back and then killed with more gunshots.  

Pope Francis declared Livatino a martyr on Dec. 22, 2020, paving the way for the judge’s beatification.

In an interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, Giuseppe Palilla, Livatino’s high school classmate, recalled the impeccable comportment of the Sicilian lawyer and judge — even toward members of the mafia.

In the collection of witness testimony about Livatino’s life, Palilla said that they could not find one person who spoke badly about the magistrate – not even those who had to defend themselves before his bench.

Palilla recalled a time when Livatino overheard a police officer speaking badly about a criminal in front of the dead man’s body. Chastising him, Livatino said: “In the face of death, those who believe pray; those who do not believe remain silent!”

Writing in his journal on July 18, 1978, the day he became a judge, the 25-year-old Livatino said: “I took an oath. From today, therefore, I am in the judiciary. May God accompany me and help me to respect the oath and to behave in the way the education my parents gave me requires.”

He had a strong knowledge of Scripture. After his death, a Bible full of notations was found in his desk, where he always kept a crucifix.

In 1986, he gave a lecture at a conference about the relationship between biblical law and the history of human law.

“The value of biblical law is immense in the heritage of human culture and especially juridical: every juridical message that is not strictly linked to historicized customs and needs has the imprint of a premonitory sign in biblical law,” he said.

Livatino was also a model student, his classmate said. And he always helped his fellow high school students in their studies, especially before final exams, giving up his own free time to do so.

“Rosario had a great respect for all his teachers, and the teachers also thought highly of him,” Palilla said. “Rosario — I want to clarify — was not the classic ‘nerd’ of the class, he just loved doing things right. He loved to deepen the study topics dealt with in class. In those days we didn’t have the internet, yet he was always very prepared.”

Palilla offered an example of Livatino’s preparedness. 

“When the philosophy teacher explained Kant to us in class,” he recalled, “Rosario asked if it would not have been better to start studying Kierkegaard first. An observation that left us and even the teacher astonished!”

Livatino would write at the top of his notebooks in high school, and later, on the top of his journal pages, the letters “S.T.D,” which stood for “Sub Tutela Dei,” meaning “Under the gaze of God.”

Another time he was asked by the religion teacher, a priest, what the Bible was, and Livatino answered: “The Bible is a chest, a treasure full of values,” Palilla said.

Years later, when Livatino was a magistrate, the same religion teacher asked him for a personal recommendation. In a mark of his integrity, Livatino politely declined the request. “With a cordiality that distinguished him, [he] replied: ‘But you, Father, when you hear confessions, do you accept recommendations?’”

Livatino’s message to students today would be “certainly friendship and evangelical and civil consistency. Rosario was a model for all of us, and he still is today,” Palilla said.

The former classmate quoted St. Ignatius of Antioch: “He educates well with what he says, he educates better with what he does, he educates even better with what he is.”

“Rosario was all of this,” he explained. “For us who had the privilege of knowing him, he was the best classmate we could wish for, the helpful and sincere friend we loved and still love. Rosario Livatino is the classmate whom I wish all of today’s young people would meet.”


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