ROME – On Monday the funeral was held for Mario Cerciello Rega, an Italian policeman allegedly murdered by two American teenagers, who was praised by friends and family for his dedication to his work, his community and to those in need.
Speaking to mourners gathered in the parish of Santa Croce in Santa Maria del Pozzo in Somma Vesuviana, near Naples, where Rega was baptized and married less than two months ago, Archbishop Santo Marcianò, the military archbishop of Italy, condemned the crime.
“What happened is unjust,” Marcianò said, adding, “Being here, professing our faith in the Risen Christ, does not exempt us, but rather obliges us, to denounce what is unjust.”
“It pushes us, today, to raise a cry that joins so many different voices who in these days have formed a single choir, bearing witness to the extraordinary nature of the man and the policeman Mario, but also asking for justice to be done and for events like this not to happen again.”
He urged mourners to dry their tears, calling them “young sons of a nation which seems to have forgotten those values for which they come to sacrifice their lives.”
Marcianò said Rega’s death should not be a resignation to evil, but rather, it has revived a sense of justice, legality, duty and brotherhood across Italy. Those working for institutions, he said, must recover a sense of ethics and responsibility, straying away from personal interests and corruption.
Calling the officer’s death a witness of love and faith “deeper than what you could possibly imagine,” Marcianò said his light would continue to shine for the nation, the world, and the Church.
During the funeral Mass, the same Gospel reading as the one chosen for Rega’s wedding was proclaimed.
Rega was allegedly murdered by two American teenagers visiting Rome – identified as Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth, 18 – the night between July 25-26.
The teens had reportedly purchased what they thought was cocaine, but which turned out to be chopped aspirin, from an Italian dealer. After discovering the scam, they went back to the dealer to demand their money back and stole his bag.
After receiving a call on a cellphone inside the stolen bag, the teens answered and said they would not return it unless they were given their money back – a sum amounting to a little over $110 – and a gram of cocaine.
A meeting was arranged near the hotel where the teens were staying, however, the pusher had contacted the police and two officers in street clothes went in his place. When the police confronted Elder and Natale, a fight broke out and Rega was stabbed eight times, leading to his death.
The teens were arrested at a four-star hotel in Rome’s Prati neighborhood Friday morning, as they were preparing to leave the country. During questioning, the knife was found and Elder confessed to the murder. The two young men are currently being held in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison while waiting for a judge to confirm the arrest.
In a statement, Elders’ family said they were “shocked and dismayed” at hearing the news. They voiced condolences to Rega’s family but said they had very little information about the incident and no contact with their son. They asked that the public respect their privacy as the case moves forward, according to the New York Times.
After Rega’s death, friends and colleagues sent heartfelt condolences to his family, praising his “life consecrated to others and to duty,” and calling him a “golden boy,” according to Italian news agency SIR, the official news site of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference.
Rega was remembered by his community as a man of deep faith who was committed to his family, and who cared for those around him. Colleagues said Rega’s caring nature was also expressed to prisoners and people who were arrested.
Colleague Lieutenant Sandro Ottaviani remembered this spirit, saying Rega “never made an arrest without offering the person arrested something to eat and drink, and when needed, he gave his clothes.”
“The neighborhood will be mobilized because he was a reference point for the whole community,” Ottaviani said, adding, “we have lost a servant of the state.”
On cold nights, according to those close to him, Rega would go to Rome’s Termini and Tiburtina train stations, where large numbers of homeless people sleep, to distribute food to those in need with the Order of Malta.
In a statement, the Order said Rega showed “a constant and regular commitment carried out with dedication and passion.” Calling his death, a “terrible loss for the whole community,” the Order said the whole organization had lost a generous and fair man who lived with a deep sense of responsibility.
According to SIR, Rega’s pastor from Somma Vesuviana, Franciscan Father Casimiro Sedzimir, remembered him as “a social guy with a heart open to listening to others and giving everything that he could: To help, to explain, and to always be present.”
Sedzimir also celebrated the officer’s wedding.
Rega supported his family after his father’s death some 10 years ago, and he continued to visit his hometown every few weeks after his transfer to Rome in 2009.
“For us he was a great hope of a good Christian family,” Sedzimir said.
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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