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  • Writer's pictureSue Alexander-Barnes

What 3P meant to us

by Enzo Scalia

His friends affectionately called him ‘Padre Pino Puglisi’, or 3P for short, though officially, to the local Catholic church, he was ‘Don Giuseppe Puglisi’. He was not part of a religious order [in Italy, only religious priests are addressed as Padre], but was ordained in the archdiocese of Palermo, within which he remained in a constant, close collaboration until his death. At first sight he seemed to be a priest who fitted perfectly the old trope tutto casa e chiesa (all church and home); that is, the stereotypical figure of a man within the institution of the Church who had no wish to challenge anyone who didn’t agree with him. Wrong. That man, shortish and with ears at right-angles, had ‘fire in his belly’. He had a passionate faith which helped him to see ‘beyond’. And everyone who came in contact with him felt important. Their everyday affairs were important. They discovered that their own little problems took on an unexpected importance thanks to that soul of God! In a word, Padre Pino loved them. Just like it says in the Gospel (Jesus loved him). I, Vincenzo Scalia, who am writing this, remember one of many little encounters with 3P. My wife and I were in disagreement over a matter we needed to come to a decision about. We would often argue about it, and it was starting to affect our family life. We were reluctant to make ‘that’ decision, and I won’t go into the details, but it would have profoundly affected our future lives. One day we agreed that we should speak to Padre Puglisi about it. Who could we confide in, if not in him? We trusted him completely and unquestioningly. But we were massively reluctant. We knew how busy he was with innumerable duties. We felt that he wouldn’t have any time to spare for our personal problems. We believed that, even had he found time to listen to us, it wouldn’t have been for more than a few minutes, and rightly so. Our problem seemed so insignificant when compared to the far more pressing affairs of his parish! However…a miracle occurred. We managed to arrange a meeting with him for a Sunday afternoon. We parked our car by the entrance to the block of flats in which he lived — exactly the spot where he was to be killed. We buzzed his flat and he came down. He climbed into the back of our car. He listened attentively. He encouraged us to discuss and debate our problem. He respected our differing positions on the matter. We felt ourselves embraced by his gaze, by his silence at certain moments. He made sure not to provoke any resentment in us towards each other. We knew that whatever he suggested would be the right course of action for us to take. It was as if, in one bound, we had given him the keys to our lives. He gave us some advice which we took to heart and carried out immediately afterwards. We had been talking for more than three hours. Padre Puglisi had given us a piece of his life! For years we have looked on that moment as a valuable lesson: if anyone asks us for help, we don’t turn them away. We don’t make them feel like a time-waster or an object, but rather part of the will of God. This is the action of a saint: what he sees is a PERSON, a child of God. Not an obstacle to his routine, a barrier to be removed at all costs. We will never forget 3P’s gaze. He made our problem his own, and we felt sure that he would have suffered greatly if a solution hadn’t been found which suited us both. Because of these qualities, Padre Pino was very popular with young people. One summer, years earlier, he had organised a challenging expedition to Roccabusambra, in the Madonie mountains near Palermo, a wooded regional park popular with Palermitans. The expedition was to finish with an ascent of the Alpe Cucco mountain, which wasn’t overly tall, but was difficult to climb. Knowing him, I think the unspoken goal was this: to test their resolve to meet the challenges of their life ahead. To strengthen their spirit in the face of difficulties. But always with the perspective of a life shared with God. Is God part of my life? I believe that is where 3P’s favourite saying was born: Yes, but where to? Those who took part, including my wife, have a vivid memory of the expedition. And everyone who went came back a different person.

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