VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Italian judge Rosario Livatino, who was killed by the Mafia in Sicily in 1990, was beatified on Sunday, the last stage before possible sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
Livatino was gunned down by a Mafia hit squad, which shot at his car as he was driving along a Sicilian highway. Despite the risks, he had refused an armed escort. He tried to flee his attackers, but was caught and killed in a field.
Known as the "boy judge" because he looked younger than his 37 years, Livatino had led many investigations into the mob at a time when Sicilian clans were involved in a full-blown war.
He was beatified at a service in Agrigento cathedral in Sicily, where a glass box containing his bloodstained shirt was put on display as a relic. Speaking to pilgrims in the Vatican City, Pope Francis praised the young magistrate.
"In his service to the community as an upstanding judge, who never allowed himself to become corrupt, he strived to judge not to condemn but to rehabilitate," Francis said.
"May his example be for everyone, especially for judges, an incentive to be loyal defenders of lawfulness and freedom."
Three years after his death, Pope John Paul visited Sicily and hailed Livatino as a "martyr of justice".
Pope Francis put him on the road to possible sainthood in December, approving a decree of martyrdom which meant there was no need for a miracle to be attributed to Livatino's intercession with God for him to be beatified.
A miracle would have to be attributed to Livatino in order for him to be declared a saint.
Roman Catholic Church teaches that only God performs miracles, but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them. A miracle is usually the medically inexplicable healing of a person.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by David Evans)