Italy Mafia: Murdered judge Rosario Livatino beatified

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image captionRosario Livatino was murdered by mafioso on 21 September 1990

An Italian judge who was gunned down in his car by the mafia has been beatified - the last stage before sainthood.

The Catholic Church beatified Rosario Livatino at a service in Agrigento, Sicily on Sunday, 28 years to the day after he was declared a martyr.

Pope John Paul II made the declaration in 1993, and famously denounced the mafia.

Livatino was working on a mass trial against mafia members at the time he was killed.

"In his service to the common good, as an exemplary judge who never succumbed to corruption, he sought to judge not to condemn but to redeem," Pope Francis said later at a service in the Vatican. "His work placed him firmly under the protection of God."

Livatino now has the title "blessed." Canonisation is the next and final step in becoming a saint.

Livatino had prosecuted a number of cases involving corruption at the local port and fake public contracts. He was a devout Catholic who prayed in church each day before going to work.

On 21 September 1990, members of the mafia splinter group Stidda fired into his Ford Fiesta as he drove to court. He had refused protection, and was found in a roadside ditch a few miles from his home.

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image captionLivatino was gunned down as he drove to court

Livatino's blood-stained shirt was put on display as a relic in the cathedral in Agrigento during Sunday's beatification ceremony.

His killers were later found guilty and received life sentences for the murder.

In 1993, John Paul II visited his parents and made a direct appeal to mob members. "Convert," he said. "The judgement of God is coming."

But Professor John Dickie, author of the Sicilian mafia history book Cosa Nostra, told the BBC's Newshour programme that the Catholic church has "a bit of a guilty conscience" on the mafia. Pope John Paul II's words only came after "decades and decades of silence and collusion," he said.

"With the Cold War over and with this upsurge in Sicilian mafia violence, finally the church began to take the mafia threat seriously, and not regard it as a sort of much, much more minor issue compared to the threat of Communism," he said.

Some 355 suspected mafia members and corrupt officials were charged after a lengthy inquiry into the 'Ndrangheta, the country's most powerful mafia group. It is expected to take more than two years.

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