Father Antonio Coluccia, “anti-Mafia” priest in Rome. / Credit: Vatican News
Rome, Italy, Aug 31, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
Pope Francis’ Diocese of Rome expressed its support for anti-Mafia priest Father Antonio Coluccia and praised his courageous pastoral work following an attempt on his life in Rome.
“On behalf of the Diocese of Rome, I express to Father Antonio Coluccia and the men of his bodyguard my full solidarity for what happened on Aug. 29 in the Tor Bella Monaca neighborhood,” read a statement signed by the vicegerent of the Diocese of Rome, Bishop Baldassare Reina.
On Tuesday, Coluccia was participating in a march on the outskirts of Rome for law and order and against the Mafia when a man on a motorbike drove toward him and, when he recognized him, tried to run him over. Trying to protect the priest, a member of his bodyguard was injured. In the midst of the confusion, the Italian police fired a shot that hit the assailant in the forearm.
Tor Bella Monaca is a neighborhood with a heavy Mafia presence and is plagued with drug trafficking. Coluccia has been fighting against drug addiction and crime since 2012, when he transformed a villa confiscated from the Mafia into a drug prevention community.
The anti-Mafia priest
Italian magistrates consider the recent attack on Coluccia to be an “assassination attempt” organized by the Mafia. The priest is described by the youth of the neighborhood as jovial and committed to his community: “He talks to everyone, smiles, and gives a medal of the Virgin to whom he asks for advice.”
“Father Antonio has been carrying out his pastoral service for several years at the side of young people who experience the malaise of drug addiction, making his voice heard against those who continue to sow death and to sell deceit,” Reina said in an Aug. 30 statement posted on the diocesan website.
“Intimidating acts like the one committed yesterday won’t discourage Don Antonio in his sensitive mission. … The time we have to live in, with the increasingly rampant diffusion of toxic substances, requires a concerted effort so that the dignity of human life is affirmed, children are guaranteed healthy and safe environments, and the educational challenge is taken seriously, aware of the immense treasure of young people for the present and for the future of our society,” said Reina, who is also an auxiliary bishop of Rome.
The mission to the drug trafficking scene
“The aggression won’t stop me. I will continue my fight, which I am carrying out against the crime that controls the drug trafficking sites in San Basilio, Quarticciolo, and Tor Bella Monaca,” Coluccia told the minister of the interior, Matteo Piantedosi, and the chief of the Rome police, Vittorio Pisani, who called him to check on him shortly after he was attacked.
In September 2021, the title of “honorary policeman” was awarded to Coluccia because the parish priest had distinguished himself by fighting crime with the Gospel in hand. For more than 25 years, Coluccia has fought on the peripheries of Italy, in the slums, and, after dark, on the streets where cocaine and crack are trafficked.
Each night he chooses a different area, shows up “to attract the kids and get them to play, to talk to the young people” and he uses a megaphone for prayers and music. “Mine is a street ministry,” he told Vatican News in 2022. “We must defend these people: These young people who die from overdoses belong to us as the Church. And we can ask ourselves if we have been unable to be close to them at times.”
Blessed Pino Puglisi, the anti-Mafia priest
Coluccia said he finds inspiration in the life of another priest: Father Pino Puglisi, beatified on May 25, 2013. Pope Francis recently commemorated the 30th anniversary of the death of the priest assassinated by the Mafia in Palermo, a “martyr of faith,” and his commitment to the poor and to young people to get them out of the world of crime.
Pope Francis praised the work of Puglisi and emphasized the importance of working together to build a just and fraternal society.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.