Born in Palermo, Mattarella was an active member of Catholic Action in his younger years and started a promising career as a law professor.
Mattarella's elder brother, Piersanti, served as governor of Sicily and was assassinated in office by the mafia in 1980.
After his brother’s death, Mattarella entered politics among the ranks of Christian Democracy party.
Christian Democracy was founded in 1943, and inherited the legacy of the Italian People's Party, which was founded by Father Luigi Sturzo – the party offered a Catholic point of reference, and attracted those formed in Catholic associations.
The party came to an end in 1994 with the Tangentopoli scandal, a nationwide investigation into political corruption.
In Palermo, Sergio Mattarella established ties and friendships with Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo, who is considered a symbol of anti-mafia activism.
During his years as a member of parliament, Mattarella served as the minister for defense, the minister of education and the minister for relations with parliament. He had frequent contact with the late Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who managed many connections between the Holy See and Italian Catholic politicians.
After Christian Democracy's collapse, Catholics politicians were scattered among several political parties.
Mattarella remained on the center-left, and served from 1998 to 1999 as deputy prime minister for the first ever Italian administration run by a former member of the communist party, Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema. Mattarella was elected as a judge in Italy’s Constitutional Court in 2011.
With his re-election as president, Mattarella is expected to take the oath of office for a second term on February 3.
“I wish to extend my sincere congratulations for your re-election to the highest office of the Italian Republic and best wishes for your carrying out your high task, which you have accepted with a spirit of generous availability,” Pope Francis wrote.
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“May the patron saints of Italy accompany you and intercede for you,” he said.