Francesco Bonifacio

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For the Italian politician and jurist, see Francesco Paolo Bonifacio.

Francesco Giovanni Bonifacio (September 7, 1912September 11, 1946) was an Italian Catholic priest, killed by the Yugoslav communists in Grisignana (then Italy now Croatia); he was beatified in Trieste on October 4, 2008.

Early life[edit]

Francesco (Checco) Bonifacio was born in Pirano, Istria which was then part of Austria Hungary, later Italy, now is part of Slovenia. He was the son of Giovanni Bonifacio, a sailor in a Trieste and Istria sailing company, and of Luigia Busdon, a housewife. He was the second of seven children of a poor family. His father was away much of the time, and therefore the education of the family laid almost entirely his mother’s shoulders. Due to their poor income she was forced to take up a job as a cleaning lady, into the wealthiest family houses. However the family lived in poverty with high dignity. Later, when he had already become a priest would write in a letter to his mother: "What the Lord gives us, must be taken without questioning, because it was meant for our benefit."

He learned the fundamentals at the local elementary school of Pirano and, received Christian learning at the local parish of San Francesco where he had served as an altar boy. Like the rest of his family he was a devoted Catholic but not a fanatic.

Seminary in Capodistria[edit]

Francesco heard the call of the faith very early and by 1924, at the age of 12, he was already in Capodistria's seminary. He accepted the hard life of the seminary with great joy and submission to authority, and although there were some flaws in basic education, he managed to shine among his fellow seminaries for his high human qualities. This earned him the nickname of El Santin the Saint. On Christmas Eve of 1931, his father Giovanni died. This sad event was taken by the young Francesco with Christian devotion, believing that it was God's will. Later in his diary he wrote, "Today my father died. He went to a better place. May the Lord grant him the rest he deserves, for all the sacrifices he has done for me." His mother was now even more willing to help her Francesco become a priest, and made every possible sacrifice, because as she later declared, "Checco, has been called by the Lord, and must be a priest."

Theological Seminary in Gorizia[edit]

He ended his study at the Seminary of Capodistria in 1932, then entered the Central Theological Seminary of Gorizia. These were turbulent years for Italy: Fascism had already consolidated its political power and wanted to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church in Italy. However the young Francesco was uninterested in politics. When in 1934, a big press campaign was mounted by the fascists, against the local Church, due to a particularly hot speech made by Bishop Luigi Fogar, he sought for advice from his seniors on what answers he should give to the High Prelate sent from Rome to investigate the matter, since his involvement in politics was basically nil.


On October 26, 1936, Don Francesco Bonofacio was ordained as a deacon in Trieste by Archbishop Carlo Margotti of Gorizia; on December 27, 1926, he was eventually ordained as a priest in the Trieste Cathedral of San Giusto. He celebrated his first service in his native Pirano church San Giorgio Dom on January 3, 1937. A few months later he was assigned as vicar at Cittanova d'Istria, where he created the local section of the Azione Cattolica (Catholic Action).

Minister in Villa Gardossi[edit]

On July 13, 1939 he was appointed as the minister of Villa Gardossi or Crassizza (now Krasica), a small borough located in the Buiese area positioned on the road between Buie and Grisignana, by the Bishop of Trieste Antonio Santin. The community was made up of a few small villages, (Baredine, Punta, Lozzari, Buzzai, Gardossi, Monte Cini, Musolini, Stazia Loy, Costellaz, Braichi and Radani), and at the time had a population of 1300 people, most of them peasants. The young priest lived this office with his usual obedience and determination. He encouraged his family, having following him there, that it was normal for him to be there, because God had his reasons for having put him there. They all lived into the two stories house with very little conveniences. The house were no running water or electricity; food was sober and scarce, but even in this condition, Don Francesco shared his little food with the poorest parishioners whenever they needed it. Don Francesco, as he was now addressed performed his sacerdotal duty toward every component of his parish with a special attention to its youth, children, elders, and sick. He quickly organized the Azione Cattolica movement and a choir in the parish. He taught religion at the local school and began a little library at the same time. He made almost daily visit to the villages of his parish, using a bicycle or even going on foot. He was good to everyone, said later Mrs. Bianca Ridossi, then chairman of the local Azione Cattolica. He preached the gospel in a simple way and his style liked by the people.

World War II[edit]

War broke out in June 1940, but had very little effect in Istria. The war escalated, right after the Italian debacle of September 8, 1943. The both components of the Communist Party, Italian and Yugoslav, quickly organized to take power in the area. German troops arrived around mid-September occupying the key positions of Istria. The local population was now consisted of German soldiers and their Fascist allied, and Communist Partisans. Life, already not easy, was made even harder. Moreover; the Villa Gardossi area with its forests and isolated houses, was an ideal land for the Partisan guerrilla. Don Francesco did not change his mind and continued his service on behalf of his community, but faced this new situation with great energy and extreme courage. During a German Army cordon and Army search operation, he risked his life to recover and bury the bodies of fallen partisans. He prevented the Germans for setting a house on fire, because they believed to be a partisan shelter. He prevented protested at the Fascist HQ of Buie regarding the murder of a peasant, and saved a man from a Partisan firing squad, because the Partisans believed him to be a German informer. He sheltered in his canonic house, youths who didn’t want to be drafted into the new Italian Fascist Army or wanted to avoid been induced into the Partisan forces. To his parishioners he delivered his simple attitude, regarding the present situation,” God, is not the author of the present evil; the authors are men soaked with the sin”.

After the war[edit]

In May 1945 German and Italian forces were driven out of the entire Istria region by the victorious Partisan Army. The region, almost entirely was almost entirely annexed to the new Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia. Life radically changed; the new regime looked for proselytes among the youth, and of course, saw the Catholic Church, and ministers as potential enemies. The new government discouraged people from approaching the Church; new holidays were introduced to replace the old religious occurrences, people attending regular services were noted by Communist agents standing outside the churches, and their names went on a blacklist. Anyone could exploit this new order and take personal advantage of being a party member, and turning himself into a communist agent. Although Don Francesco’s faith was as firm as a rock, he noted that things were changing for worse. He was informed by some loyal parishioner that some members of his congregation had already embraced the new standards, and therefore he was warned not to trust them anymore. However, due to his strong faith in God and in his mission, he chose to keep on trusting them. As history has subsequently proven, people soon realized what it meant to be under a communist regime, and Don Francesco Bonifacio did too. He wrote in his diary,” I can’t believe that those who claim to be our liberators are stealing so much from us.” Due to his sense of duty and his total attachment to the Christian doctrine, he was seen as a mentor for his community. This was a threat to the new masters’ programs and Don Francesco went on the blacklist, alongside of many other priests. At this time Yugoslav communism was modeled on Soviet style, and along with the usual violence, they were also trained to use other tricks to accomplish their goals. Misinformation, propaganda and false accuses were just part of that plan. Don Francesco was therefore accused of being a “Subversive and an anti-communist”. He answered these false accusations by holding Action’s meeting into the Church, with the doors wide open, so that everyone could listen to what he was saying to his attendance.


A Few days before his end, Don Francesco, had been warned by some loyal parishioners that his life was in danger. He knew that he was on the Communist BlackList, and made a confidence to a fellow Priest, Don Guido Bertuzzo, the Sicciole's Chaplian, telling him that even talking on the streets had become very dangerous for him, since he was under strict surveillance, and that Istria was now living under terror. He recommended to an activist parishioner to make "marks his arms" since he knew that the "Druses" (communists) were now cutting heads of their victims. Father (Don) Francesco Bonifacio was likely killed on September 11, 1946, the same day he disappeared and his body was never recovered. He was seen alive for the last time around 4 p.m., by Don Giuseppe Rocco, his confessor and Chaplain of Peroi. A later reconstruction stated that he was stopped on his way back home by four "Popular Guards", beaten to death and his body thrown into a foiba. Other unconfirmed versions stated that he was also reputedly physically abused, stoned and eventually stabbed twice. When his brother went to ask for information to the local "Popular Militia" (Communist Police) he was arrested on accusation of spreading false and anticommunist propaganda. Shortly afterwards his family moved to Italy. The fate of Father (Don) Francesco Bonifacio was not the only violence committed against the Catholic Church of the former Italian territories ceded to Yugoslavia in 1945. In June 1946, Trieste bishop Mons. Santin was stopped and beaten by communist activists while going to Koper/Capodistria, then part of his diocese, attending the Ceremony of Confirmations; his delegate Mons Giacomo Ukmar was also beaten on August 23, 1947, the same day as another priest Don Miro Bulesic had his throat slit. On November 11, 1951 another Trieste bishop delegate Mons. Giorgio Bruni, was beaten when attending Confirmations in Carcaseon the bishop's behalf.


The then Bishop of Trieste Antonio Santin, born in Rovigno now Rovinj in Croatia, first submitted the proposal for the beatification of Don Francesco Bonifacio back in 1957. Santin had good and bad positions concerning the Church's credibility in Istria before and during the Second World War, and the biggest minus in his biography were the words of praise from Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, who he officially accompanied during his visit in Trieste in 1938. Mons. Eugenio Ravignani, current Bishop of Trieste himself born in Pola now Pula (Croatia), wrote a report on the priest’s murder on July 3, 1938. He wrote that the Don Francesco Bonifacio murdered on {{#dateformatSeptember 11 1946}}, in the evening at the age of 34 years and that for many years they knew nothing, until witnesses confirmed and shed light on what happened that night. All testimonies said that they beat him and threw him into a pit, the Bishop wrote, while some mentioned him being stoned, injured with a knife and shot. Then he described that the priest's life end in a foiba, just like the Catholic newspaper “Avvenire” and other media wrote. However, not one name of the witnesses who testified, has been given out forty, fifty or sixty years later–it seems that these are "top secret" data and this raises suspicion when talking about the victims of the foibe.


[citation needed]

The peace treaty of Paris signed on 1947, when Istria almost entirely was ceded to Yugoslavia, is still an issue that mark the relations between Italy and the new states of the former Federation of Yugoslavia. The solution is not easy. The two sides have a lot to say and everyone has its own versions. As for Don Francesco Bonifacio issue there are some fact, that it’s valuable to mention here, and that will help to see his personal story with equity. Right wing media, like Ragione, have “pumped up” the public with statements that the communist partisans murdered 120 Italian priests, and Don Francesco Bonifacio is mentioned as one of them.[citation needed] On July 11, 2006, Vincenzo Merlo’s portal wrote that Don Bonifacio wrote in his diary in 1946: “How do days go by? Between disappointment and fear.”It describes the priest’s death almost in the same way as other media, but it adds that he was thrown in the foiba Martinezi (180 meters deep), or Dupci, as Croats from Bujstina call it. This author accused Marshal Tito’s Slav communists who threw thousands “Istrians and Triestines, Italian and Slavs, fascists and antifascists” into pits… However, on February 7, 2006, the “Avvenire” wrote that Don Luigi Rocco, who received a visit from Don Bonifacio in 1946 in Groznjan, stated that the priest was thrown into the pit Martinesi in Groznjan, and this information was also spread by other media. Pope Ratzinger’s internet blog features articles from many news papers and agencies which mention the foiba Martinezi near Buje.[citation needed] Above all, many historians and publicists in Italy do not mention the foiba Martinesi and the victims in their books and publications, not even one of the greatest counterfeiters of historic events of Istria, Luigi Papo, war commander of the Fascist garrison in the Istrian town of Motovun. In his book “Albo d’oro” (Trieste 1995) Luigi Papo from Montona now Motovun, wrote about the death of Don Bonifacio, saying that Tito’s partisans arrested him and murdered him the next day, on September 11, 1946.

Famous Istrian priest Mons. Bozo Milanovic, author of many books on Istrian history and crimes committed against priests, wrote a book “Istra u dvadesetom stoljecu” (“Istria in the twentieth century”, Pazin 1996). In this book he described the work of the “college of priests St. Pavao for Istria”, 1946. He wrote that they discussed a “secretly missing Italian minister in Bujstina (…)” while Ivan Grah, minister in the Istrian villages of Sisan and Liznjan, in his book “Istarska crkva u ratnom vrihoru” (1943–1945) (Istrian Church in war winds), published in Pazin in 1992, described the crimes against Istrian priests but never mentioned Don Bonifacio. However, in the feuilleton Istarski Svecenici - Ratne i Poratne Zrtve (Istrian priests–war and post-war victims), published in the monthly “Ladonja” in August 2005, Ivan Grah wrote about Francesco Bonifacio. Since 1939 till his suffered death, he was at the head of the parish of Krasica in Bujstina. After the end of the war, the Yugo-Communist authorities could not bear him because he interfered too much with their ideological work. On September 10, 1946, came the news that in Bujstina they–the communists- had a list of younger priests who had to be “liquidated” by the Popular Guard. Don Bonifacio was first on the list, but he decided to carry on with his duties as a priest. The following day, September 11, in the evening, the Popular Guard was waiting for him as he returned home on foot from Groznjan and, after a crabbed discussion, he was coercively taken away. Since then, all traces of him have disappeared and the place of his death remaines unknown (…)”. The Communist writer, publicist and journalist Giacomo Scotti, an Italian Communist expatriate from Naples, in his book “Cry from the foiba” (Rijeka 2008) does not mention the murder of Don Bonifacio or his body being thrown into a foiba. Giacomo Scotti a great expert on this topic in Croatia and Italy wrote: “As soon as I started writing about the beatification of Don Bonifacio being held in Trieste and about the murder, I stated that this priest is not present on the list of foibe victims. The League of Anti-fascist Fighters told me that Don Bonifacio went missing in September 1946, and that there is no information on his murder or on his death in a pit. The murder of Don Bonifacio, said Tomo Ravnic for, president of the SAB of the Istria County, throws shame on antifascist fighters. Now the question is: why does the Vatican keep quiet over the lies of Italian media and politicians about Tito’s partisans murdering Don Francesco Bonifacio and throwing him into a foiba? And why has the Archbishop Angelo Amato, Chief of Congregation for the Causes of Saints, accepted the proposal for the beatification which reads that the priest Bonifacio was thrown into a foiba if this has not been confirmed.”[citation needed] The beatification ceremony was held in the Trieste Cathedral of Saint Giusto on 4 October 2008 by Trieste Bishop’s Eugenio Ravignani; The Archbishop Angelo Amato, represented the Pontiff. In 2005 a Trieste square was named after Francesco Bonifacio.

See also[edit]


  • 1. ^ Quotidiano Avvenire del 5 agosto 2008: "Trieste, beato il 4 ottobre il prete martire della foiba."
  • 2. ^ According to the Peace Treaty of Paris on 10 February 1947; from 15 September 1947 the Italian territories of the former eastern provinces of Pola and Trieste were included in the Trieste Free territory, divided in two zones:

Zona A, under the administration of the Allied Military Government (AMG): Great Britain and US; Zona B, under Yugoslav administration. In 1954 the A zone was returned to Italy and the B zone was included in Yugoslavia, but until the Osimo Treaty of 1975 was ratified both zones were still nominally under the Italian state Jurisdiction; the treaty of 1975 marked the definite cession to the then Yugoslavia of the B zone, and sealed the peace treaty of Paris of 1947.

  • 2 bis. ^ There is no official list of victims: any attempt to count the exact number may result incorrect. This depends on many factors. The Yugoslav Government reluctance to deliver information over the number of detained and arrested people in Istria in the period after the war. The deeply Italian disinterest, due to the political strife inside the Italian nation after the war. The difficult recovering of bodies thrown into the Foibes. An investigation performed by La Civiltà Cattolica published on 1952 gives the number of killed, Catholic Priests to 378 in Tito’s Yugoslavia . However Don Francesco Bonifacio was not listed into this numbers that excluded the residents of B zone of free Territory of Trieste. According to Father Flamio Rocchi the religious persecution in Tito’s Yugoslavia casualties amounted to: two bishops death in jail: 430 priests killed and 1.954 arrested and jailed: the figures also included the priests located into the former Italian territories ceded to Yugoslavia.
  • 3. 4. ^ agenzia di stampa ZENIT of 12 February 2006: "50 priests among the foibes victims":

^ Agenzia di stampa ZENIT dell'8 luglio 2008: "Don Francesco Bonifacio, vittima delle foibe, presto beato. Rapito dalla guardie di Tito, venne ucciso "in odio alla fede" nel 1946"

  • 5. ^ Bollettino della Sala Stampa della Santa Sede del 3 luglio 2008: "Promulgazione dei decreti della Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi"
  • 6. ^ Vatican Radio, 4 August 2008: "On 4 October the beatification of don Francesco Bonifacio, tortured and killed by Tito’s militiamen"


  • Diocesi di Trieste weekly “Vita Nuova”
  • Raccolta di articoli su Francesco Bonifacio:
  • M.R. Eugenio Ravignani, Bishop of Trieste.
  • Biography di don Francesco Bonifacio
  • Don Francesco Bonifacio beatification in Trieste
  • Interview to Giovanni Bonifacio
  • Interview to mons. Rocco su don Bonifacio
  • Interview to mons. Malnati su don Bonifacio
  • Don Bonifacio and the Catholic Action Movement.(C78.NBR)