During his Friday meeting with the Carabinieri, Italy's national police-military corps, Pope Francis referred to Salvo D'Acquisto, a fellow Carabiniere who gave his life to save 22 others during World War II.
“Dear Carabinieri, your mission is expressed in service to others and requires you daily to live up to the trust and esteem which the people place in you,” Pope Francis said June 6 at St. Peter's Square. “This requires constant availability, patience, a spirit of sacrifice and a sense of duty.”
“I think of the servant of God Salvo D'Acquisto who, 23 years old, here near Rome, at Palidoro, spontaneously offered his young existence to save the life of innocent person from Nazi brutality.
D'Acquisto is a national hero of Italy, having been posthumously awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor. He was born in Naples in 1920, the eldest of eight children, and he volunteered in 1939 to join the Carabinieri.
The next year, shortly after the beginning of World War II, he left for Libya. Although he suffered a leg wound, he remained with his division until he contracted malaria.
In 1942 he returned to Italy, attended officer school, and graduated as a vice-sergeant. He was then assigned to an outpost in Torrimpietra, not far from Rome.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was overthrown July 25, 1943, and the new Italian government – headed by General Pietro Badoglio – signed an armistice with the Allies Sept. 3, which was made public Sept. 8.
German troops then remaining in Italy took efforts to take control of the territory, and an SS division camped near Torre di Palidoro, within the jurisdiction of D'Acquisto's Torrimpietra station.
An explosion took place Sept. 22 when the SS were inspecting boxes of abandoned weapons; one was killed, and two more were wounded.
The German commander blamed the explosion on local Italians, and rounded up at random 22 locals the next day, demanding the assistance of the Carabinieri.
All of the arrested declared they were innocent. Asked to name of those in charge of the explosion, D’Acquisto reiterated that there could not be anyone responsible, because the explosion was accidental, and so all the local residents had to be considered innocent.
Wanda Baglioni, an eyewitness to the incident, explained that the Germans separated D’Acquisto from the arrested while these latter were under interrogation, and “even though he had been beaten up and sometimes even beaten by his guards, he kept a calm and dignified countenance.”
After the interrogation, the arrested people and D’Acquisto were transferred outside of the town and were given spades with which to dig a common grave in the vicinity of the Tower of Palidoro.
They were all to be executed by firing squad for the explosion which had killed a German soldier.
Angelo Amodio, one of those who were arrested, has said that “at the very last moment, against all odds, we were all released, with the exception of Salvo D’Acquisto.”
“We were already resigned to our destiny when D’Acquisto talked with a German official through an interpreter. We do not know what D’Acquisto said.”
D'Acquisto had “confessed” to causing the explosion, saving the lives of the 22 others.
Amodio saw D'Acquisto shot, and heard him yell “Viva l'Italia!” before his corpse fell to the ground.
His body is kept in Naples' parish of Santa Chiara.
St. John Paul II has also referred to D'Acquisto as a model for the Carabinieri.
At a Feb. 26, 2001 meeting with the Carabinieri of Lazio, he said their history “shows that the heights of holiness can be reached in the faithful and generous fulfilment of the duties of one's state. I am thinking here of your colleague, Sergeant Salvo D'Acquisto, awarded a gold medal for military valour, whose cause of beatification is under way.”
In 1983, Archbishop Gaetano Bonicelli, then of Italy's military ordinariate, opened the cause for D'Acquisto's canonization. The investigation was concluded in 1991, and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints awaits a miracle through his intercession so as to advance his cause.