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A judge killed by the mafia in 1990 has been recognized a martyr

Rosario Livatino

Public Domain

Larry Peterson - published on 12/30/20

Rosario Livatino will be beatified in 2021.

Rosario Livatino was born in Sicily on October 3, 1952, the only child born to Vincenzo Livatino and Rosalia Corbo. Growing up, Rosario was a quiet boy who stayed out of trouble, and was an excellent student. He had a kind heart and never refused to help other students who were having difficulty with their studies. Most importantly, Rosario was devoted to his Catholic faith and loved Our Lord deeply.

After finishing high school, he attended the University of Palermo and in 1975 graduated magna cum laude. Three years later, he moved to Caltanissetta (in central Sicily), where he began his career as a magistrate. After a few years, he became a public prosecutor in Agrigento, and in 1989 he was appointed a judge. 

He helped the poor of his town as much as possible

Rosario tried to keep his Christian life quiet and low-key. He helped the poor of his town as much as possible, but always wanted to keep his charity work secret. When he attended Mass, he sat in the back pews trying to remain unnoticed. He kept a crucifix on his desk and a Bible next to it. The Bible had many pages with verses underlined. Ironically, his church pastor in Agrigento only found out that he was a judge after his death.

Much of what is known about Livatino’s life comes from his diaries, which he began keeping in 1978. During that year, he wrote, “Today I took the oath, and I am a magistrate. May God assist me and help me respect this oath and to behave as demanded by the education I received by my parents.” Rosario took his work very seriously.

Rosario Livatino had to face the complexities that are part of life in Sicily. The most difficult reality was the presence of the mafia. The dreaded organization was strongly connected to most of the local and national politics. Rosario knew he would have to stand for law and order or compromise his character to protect his own safety. As was his way, he turned to Jesus and Mary for their help.


Read more:
Giving your life for another can lead to canonization, pope decides

Walking a thin line

Judge Livatino knew the identities of the mafia families and did his best to avoid granting them even the smallest of favors. He also avoided contact with them as best he could. This was no easy task as he was always being invited to club meetings or even church gatherings, designed to foster the mafia’s networks. It was a thin line he walked, and every day was a challenge.

When he sat on the bench, though, there was no “thin line.” He was a good man filled with God’s grace and determined to fulfill his duties. However, many of the defendants who appeared before him had mafia affiliations.  A just man could not avoid making enemies. As time went by and Judge Livatino meted out sentences prescribed by law, he became hated more and more. The local “bosses” had their form of “law” and resented those who got in the way. Many times an assassination was how they dealt with their “problems.”

In his diaries, Judge Livatino wrote that issuing judgments is one of the most challenging tasks that men are required to perform. He wrote, “The duty of the magistrate is to decide; however, to decide is also to choose. … that the judge who believes may find a relationship with God. It is a direct relationship because to administer justice is to realize oneself, to pray, to dedicate oneself to God.”

Rosario Livatino harbored many doubts and fears. He wanted desperately to meet a woman and get married, but it never happened. He began resigning himself to being alone, realizing it was better he had no family. Two years before his death, he received the sacrament of Confirmation. He knew he needed the strength of a Christian soldier. It was during this time that he rejected having a bodyguard. 

The “Boy Judge” said goodbye to his parents and left for work

On the last day of his young life, the man called the “Boy Judge” said goodbye to his parents and left for work in Agrigento. As he drove his car, he was rammed from behind and forced to stop. A motorcycle pulled up on the other side, and men from inside the vehicle and from the motorcycle opened fire, shooting through the windows. Rosario managed to get out and tried to run, but he fell. He rolled over on his back and watched as the assassins quickly surrounded him, pointed their guns down, and opened fire. The date was September 21, 1990.

A Martyr of Justice

Pope St. John Paul II called Rosario Livatino a “Martyr of Justice” and thus, in an indirect way, a martyr of the Christian faith. 

Pope Francis has approved his decree of martyrdom, and his beatification will take place during the spring of 2021.


Read more:
Maria Goretti and newly Blessed Anna Kolesarova: What are “martyrs for purity”?

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