A Sicilian judge who was called a martyr by Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis has moved to one step from sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. The beatification of Rosario Livatino took place Sunday at the cathedral in Agrigento, near the spot where the judge was shot to death by the Mafia in 1990. The investigating magistrate had been working on a mass trial against Mafia members and was planning a new case at the time. Although he knew he was a target, Livatino, 38, refused armed guards, France 24 reports. Notes found later showed he asked God to forgive him for putting his parents at risk with his work. Livatino was one of the first to go after the assets of organized crime, a priest involved in the effort said. "He understood that would lead to a weakening of the clans, their loss of control and also of social control," the priest wrote in a biography of Livatino.
At the Vatican on Sunday, Francis called Livatino, who prayed every day in church before work, a "martyr of justice and of the faith." The pope said he hoped others would follow the judge's example and become "loyal defenders of legality and of liberty," per the AP. After visiting Livatino's parents in 1993, John Paul II became the first pope to publicly denounce mobsters. In 2014, Francis announced that all members of organized crime are automatically excommunicated. The church's commission on human development announced Sunday that it has set up a working group to consider such a policy, saying bishops around the world will be involved. In Sicily, a young people's coop named for Livatino now cultivates land that was seized from the mafia. (Read more sainthood stories.)