|Don Francesco Bonifacio|
Istrian Italian priest killed by the Yugoslavs
Among the many thousands killed in the Foibe Massacres, there were at least 50 priests. Ranieri Ponis has devoted a monograph to each one, entitled “Storie di preti dell’Istria uccisi per cancellare la loro fede” (“Stories of Istrian priests killed for their faith”), published by Zenit.
Indeed, the Slav invaders sought first and foremost to eliminate people who were in any way part of the Italian ruling class or at least associated with them, such as intellectuals, politicians, entrepreneurs, teachers and clergymen. The hatred of priests stemmed also from the ideological convictions of the Yugoslav partisans, Tito at the time being a close ally of Stalin.
After the complete eradication of the entire Italian civil and military body in Julian Venetia and Dalmatia, the bishops and priests were the only remaining representatives of the Italian population, which typically was very religious. Undoubtedly, one of the causes that led to the Exodus of Italians from Julian Venetia was religious persecution, which was carried out with the specific intention of intimidating Italians into leaving. The idea of attacking the religious faith of a population in order to facilitate an ethnic cleansing had already been formulated in the so-called “Manual of Cubrilovic”, originally intended by the author to drive away Albanian Muslims from Kosovo. It ended up being used by Tito against the Italians. Hindering or preventing the practice of religion, together with marginalizing, expelling or murdering Italian clergy, was therefore a means to further terrorize the Italians in Julian Venetia, who are rooted in Christian convictions. And after the invaders eliminated the Italian “intelligentsia”, the only remaining representatives of Italians were the clergy. In fact, the “Manual of Cubrilovic” specifically recommends targeting the most representative and authoritative members of the enemy's population.
The massacre of Italian priests began as early as September 1943, when bands of Slavs took temporary control of Istria. During that month a group of Slav partisans seized the parish priest of Villa di Rovino, Don Angelo Tarticchio, imprisoning him in Castle Montecuccoli in Pisino, which was converted into a prison. Don Tarticchio ended up being killed in a mass shooting after a few days in jail. The bodies of those shot were thrown into a bauxite quarry. The bodies were bound together with barbed wire and the priest also had a crown of barbed wire on his head.
Among the other priests killed by the invaders back in 1943 was Don Placido Sancin, parish priest of San Dorligo della Valle, who was kidnapped by the Slav partisans in October 1943 and vanished into thin air. He may have been thrown into the foiba in San Servolo, located near San Dorligo, since ecclesiastical garments were discovered there in a pit.
A similar fate befell Don Giuseppe Gabbana, chaplain of the Guardia di Finanza, who was killed by a band of Slavs on March 2, 1944 at his home in Trieste. After trustfully opening the door, never suspecting he would be confronted by a hit squad who came to assassinate him, he was massacred with machine guns and a rifle butt. Among the other victims of the partisans were Don Nicola Fantela, drowned in Ragusa with a stone tied around his neck on October 25, 1944, Don Giovanni Dorbolò, thrown into a foiba on May 1, 1945, etc. etc.
The Church has officially recognized as a martyr one of the 50 priests killed by Slav Communists, part of the 129 Italian priests murdered soon after the end of World War II. The then Pope Benedict XVI had in fact approved the decree of beatification, saying that the murder happened “in odium fidei,” or “in hatred of the faith.” His name is Don Francesco Bonifacio. Born in Pirano, Istria on September 7, 1912, he was nicknamed “el santin” (“the saint”) in seminary and was ordained a priest in Triest on December 27, 1936. He was kidnapped by a group of “people's guards” and Slav soldiers on September 11, 1946. The Titoists beat him, stripped him, stoned him, and finally stabbed him to death with knives. The body was possibly burned, or perhaps thrown into the foiba called Martines. It is uncertain, because his body was never found. His brother tried looking for him when he heard that he had been imprisoned.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints decreed on July 3, 2008 that his death was a martyrdom and the rite of beatification of Don Francesco Bonifacio was held in the Cathedral of San Giusto in Trieste on October 4, 2008.
The Bishop of Trieste, Monsignor Antonio Santin, ended up nearly lynched in 1947 in Capodistria. A mob broke into the seminary, smashing down the door and attacking the prelate, snatching away his pastoral cross. Then they began a beating which lasted for two hours. The police, i.e. the Slav Communist “People's Guard”, was alerted, but did not respond. In truth, most of its members were among the attackers of the bishop, wearing civilian clothes. The “People's Guard”, present at the scene, intervened only when it became clear that the bishop was about to be killed, which would have damaged the image of Tito's dictatorship in the eyes of the international community. Monsignor Santin, after he was wounded in the head and nearly killed, was expelled from Capodistria, making it impossible to hold religious celebrations, which was the reason he visited the Istrian town. The attack on the prelate was due to the fact that he was a beloved figurehead for the Italians in the Diocese of Trieste, who opposed the Slav invasion and Tito's ambitions of annexation.
The killings and attacks against Italian clergymen were accompanied by other acts of violence. There were limitations or prohibitions against religious activity (teaching, catechesis, celebration of Masses, etc., which were subject to severe limitations and restrictions, and at times hindered). Many sacred buildings were also destroyed, including a good number of Byzantine, Romanesque and Venetian churches of great artistic value. The destruction of Roman and Venetian churches was done by the Titoists in order to erase all visible traces of the Italian past of the region, vandalistically annihilating works of art, as had already happened in Dalmatia, while at the same depriving the entire native Italian population of places of worship.