Monday, February 26, 2024

Poison in priest’s chalice seen as Mafia threat

Mafia hitman poisons priest's chalice in southern Italy

A Catholic priest in southern Italy was the victim of a Feb. 24 poisoning attempt involving bleach mixed in with the water and wine used at Mass, in what many observers believe was a mafia-related attempt at intimidation.

Father Felice Palamara, pastor of San Nicola di Pannaconi parish in Cessaniti in the southern Italian region of Calabria, told police that when he prepared to drink from a chalice in which he had placed the consecrated water and wine for a Sunday vigil Mass on Saturday evening, he detected a strange odor and interrupted the liturgy.

Laboratory analysis later confirmed the presence of bleach in the chalice, according to local media reports, triggering an investigation by the carabinieri, Italy’s military police.

The risks to Palamara from the attempted poisoning were especially serious, sources said, given that the priest suffers from both asthma and a heart condition.

Palamara told reporters that this is not the first time he’s been menaced. Just a month ago, he said, his car was defaced for a second time while parked in the vicinity of his parish, and he said he’s received various death threats over the ten years he’s served as the pastor.

Nor is he the only local priest to face blowback. Also in recent days, Father Francesco Pontoriero, pastor of a nearby parish of San Basilio Magno, found a dead cat sitting on the hood of his car after having gone out to dinner in the center of Cessaniti.

Both Palmara and Pontoriero are known locally for their advocacy of legality and opposition to organized crime, the most notorious form of which in southern Italy is the ‘Ndrangheta. While the threatening letters received by Palmara specifically refer to his alleged role in having the previous pastor of his parish removed, many observers regard the real motive for the harassment as mafia-related.

The region in which the two priests live is presently being governed by a special police commissioner, after the former mayor resigned last August amid charges that the local administration was effectively under mafia control.

In the wake of the bleach incident, Palmara has been placed under police escort.

“I’m calm, even if in addition to forgiveness and mercy, I hope that the justice system succeeds in bringing these criminal episodes to light,” he told local media.

Bishop Attilio Nostro of Mileto-Nicotera-Tropea, the diocese in which the incidents have taken place, expressed his support for Palmara and Pontoriero.

“The diocese is living through a period of suffering due to acts of intimidation that have nothing to do with the normal Christian life of parishes,” said Nostro, 57, in a statement.

“For this reason, I appeal anew to the Christian communities not to be discouraged by this language of violence. We must not cede to this logic, allowing ourselves to be tempted by unease and by anger,” he said.

“We must not accept this language, we must not response to hate with hate, knowing that it’s not truly possible to dialogue with someone who refuses to do so,” Nostro said.

The local community also expressed its support for Palmara.

“We won’t allow anyone to harm our pastor … no one will be able to stop a town that wants, and deserves, relief, that wants to grow.”