Martyr Francesco Spoto Beatified in Palermo

Italian Priest Was Killed in Congo

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PALERMO, Sicily, APRIL 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Blessed Francesco Spoto knew the value of life, and how to give it up for others, according to the current superior general of his congregation.



Palermo native Father Spoto, the superior general of the Congregation of Missionary Servants of the Poor, was 40 years old when he was murdered by a group of Simba rebels in Congo in 1964.

He was beatified last Saturday in his hometown. Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, retired archbishop of Palermo, was delegated by Benedict XVI to preside at the Mass.

Archbishop Paolo Romeo of Palermo and all the prelates of Sicily were present, in what was the first beatification Mass celebrated in the archdiocese, reported Vatican Radio.

Bishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Mahagi-Nioka, the Congolese diocese in which Father Spoto was killed, also attended.

Last June Benedict XVI authorized the promulgation of the decree in which the young priest was declared a martyr, thus opening the door to his beatification.

Forgiveness

Cardinal De Giorgi said in his homily that Father Spoto was "savagely hit on his chest on Dec. 11" by the Congolese rebels. "He grasped on to life for 16 days of extreme agony, forgiving his killers," the prelate added.

According to the cardinal, Father Spoto "abandoned himself to the will of the Lord, without reservations."

Cardinal De Giorgi added that the martyr "invites us to holiness, not necessarily accomplishing extraordinary acts, but doing the everyday things."

Father Giuseppe Civiletto, current superior general of the Missionary Servants of the Poor, told Vatican Radio that Father Spoto was 35 when he was elected superior general of the congregation in 1959.

He "gave a boost to the congregation, dedicating himself to vocations, to opening new homes and sending the first brothers in mission to Biringi, in Congo," said Father Civiletto.

He continued: "To visit and encourage them, during the summer of 1964, he left for Congo, where a bloody civil war was taking place.

"For them, he accepted the sacrifice of his life that the Lord asked of him.

"Taken and savagely beaten by the Simba, after a few days he died in the bush on Dec. 27, 1964, offering his life for the salvation of his brothers."

Man of character

Father Civiletto added that the Father Spoto was a "man of character and attached to his duties, a seminarian and serious student, obedient and tenacious religious person, zealous and serving priest, a superior general interested in the happenings of the Church and the congregation."

"During the last four months he was an aware and generous missionary to Biringi," added Father Civiletto.

The superior general said that Father Spoto is "an example of how to give meaning to life; giving it worth and giving it up for others."

He added that "this translates into living -- even in the midst of difficulties and contrasts -- with joy, the joy that for us Christians comes from the knowledge of being in communion with Christ, of being a sacrifice in the hands of God. This is worthy.

"This is what the Lord needs," said Father Civiletto. "This is what the world needs."