In August of 2014, I wrote in my blog about the history of Saint Barbara, the name that graces our city, county, channel, Presidio and Mission, among other landmarks. The history of Saint Barbara comes down to us through oral tradition. She was born in the 3rd century in a pagan world, became Christian, and was decapitated by her father. The feast day of Saint Barbara is the 4th of December, not her birthday, but rather the day that she was presumably martyred. She is the patron saint of architecture, explosives, mathematics and military engineers, among other things.
Because of doubts about the authenticity of the legend, Santa Barbara was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, but not from the list of saints of the Catholic Church. Today Santa Barbara remains the patron saint of many cities throughout the world. One of these is Paternò, at the foot of Mount Etna (which, by the way, recently erupted). In this city in the province of Catania in Sicily, there is a baroque style church dedicated to Santa Barbara.
And it is in Paternò where another story begins and continues. As anticipated the city celebrated the feast day of Santa Barbara this past December 4, 2015. There was a procession through the streets with the statue of Santa Barbara carried on the shoulders of those entrusted with the festival. At a certain point the parade stopped in front of a house. The music of “The Godfather” began. These same statue carriers performed the classic “rocking horse” movement simulating the reverential “bow” in front of the son of an infamous Mafioso figure who is in jail, and also simulating the “goodbye” with the ritual final kiss.
The family name of this house is Assinnata, and the father is in jail for criminal conspiracy typical of the Mafia. Domenico Assinnata ended up in jail last April for extortion and theft. In Paternò there is no need to introduce him: Assinnata is considered the ruling clan that has historically been tied to the Santapaola family of Catania. He ended up behind bars for criminal activity committed since 1998.
The provincial head of the carabinieri almost immediately stopped the celebration. The Catania prosecutor called the episode “a clear manifestation of intimidating force, typical of Mafia power” and forbid their participation in religious parades until December 12th. In Paternò an “obsequious” and “reverential” culture appears to pervade in front of criminal characters. But the cry of condemnation and rebellion in the Paternò community is strong, very strong.
Times have changed. In Paternò the arrests of recent months have created a void of Mafia power, which attracts the criminal ambitions of the young called up by the Cosa Nostra who are still free. The grip of the investigators, however, remains tight. The prosecutor’s office responds immediately to events with measures that leave no room for tolerance. Monitoring today focuses on understanding who will take the positions left vacant by those who end up behind bars.