JCU Welcomes Dr. Pietro Grasso for a Presidential Lecture on the Legacies of Giovanni Falcone

On January 29, 2023, John Cabot University welcomed Dr. Pietro Grasso for a Presidential Lecture entitled “From Pizza Connection to the Maxi Trial: The Legacies of Giovanni Falcone.”

A former anti-mafia magistrate, Grasso was President of the Italian Senate from 2013 to 2018. He is the founder and president of the Scintille di Futuro (“Sparks for the Future”) Foundation. Dr. Grasso served as an associate judge in the famous Maxi Trial of Palermo (1986-1992), a landmark legal proceeding against the Sicilian Mafia. The trial’s success was facilitated by key figures such as judge Giovanni Falcone and his collaboration with American investigators from the FBI and DEA.

Pietro Grasso (right) and JCU President Franco Pavoncello
Dr. Pietro Grasso (right) and JCU President Franco Pavoncello

The event, which was organized by the Department of Psychological and Social Sciences, was held in Italian with simultaneous translation.

“It is a great honor and pleasure to welcome President Pietro Grasso for this lecture dedicated to Giovanni Falcone in the international fight against organized crime,” said JCU President Franco Pavoncello.

Pietro Grasso and Giovanni Falcone
Grasso had a close personal and professional relationship with Giovanni Falcone, the magistrate who, after spending most of his professional life trying to overthrow the power of the Sicilian Mafia, was assassinated when a bomb exploded under a highway on May 23, 1992, near the town of Capaci, on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, together with his wife Francesca Morvillo and three police escort agents, Vito Schifani, Rocco Dicillo, and Antonio Montinaro.

During the lecture, Grasso traced the beginnings of the state’s fight against the Mafia, which only thanks to Falcone’s investigative brilliance was finally recognized and fought as such. “The Mafia,” said Grasso, “really existed and was a well-structured organized criminal organization with ramifications everywhere as far as the United States.”

Giovanni Falcone and the United States
It was Falcone’s collaboration with the United States that led to the “Pizza Connection” investigation (1979-1984), which brought to light the sprawling development of the Italian Mafia in Italy and abroad.

Admiration for Falcone in the United States was enormous and still is. “Just imagine,” said Grasso, “that in the courtyard of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, there is a bronze bust of Giovanni that welcomes young people who want to become the best law enforcement officers on the planet.” Grasso also explained that the column on which the statue rests is broken, symbolizing an interrupted job. On the ground, there is a shield featuring a scale, a symbol of Justice.

Pietro Grasso
Dr. Pietro Grasso in JCU’s Aula Magna Regina

In the aftermath of Falcone’s death, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling it “a profound loss for Italy, for the United States, for the world.” Grasso also explained that in the U.S. Congress, there is an entire staircase whose walls are lined with photos of Falcone with American policemen and news articles. At the top of the stairs, the Italian flag is intertwined with the American flag.

Falcone’s Roman period
Unfortunately, Falcone’s efforts led to resentment from some quarters and even attacks by politicians and the media. When he did not receive the job he coveted as chief prosecutor in Palermo, he accepted the position of head of the Criminal Affairs Office at the Ministry of Justice in Rome, where he called Grasso to work with him.

“The Roman period was among the most serene of Falcone’s life,” explained Grasso. “It was then that we worked on the anti-Mafia legislation: a whole system of laws was created that are indispensable in the fight against organized crime and that we hope will not be dismantled in this new season.”

The silver lighter
Grasso showed the audience a silver lighter that Falcone gave him on their last plane ride together to Palermo, saying, “Pietro, you keep it for me. Mind you, it is not a gift. Today I decided to quit smoking. If I have to start again, I know you have it and you will give it back to me.”

But Grasso never had a chance to return the lighter because Falcone was killed just a few weeks later. “Whenever I go through difficult times, I just hold it in my hand, light it, and I seem to hear Giovanni’s advice. I hope it can light many torches that illuminate the path of you young people to carry Giovanni’s ideas forward with your own legs.” 

That’s how Sparks for the Future was born, the foundation that Pietro Grasso created to explain to young people what the Mafia is and who Giovanni Falcone was. “Giovanni did not want to be a hero, just a magistrate. He never gave up. The message he wanted to send was this: ‘The state will not back down, and it will prevail in the end,’” he concluded.