Group Lobbies Vatican to Recognize Gun Saint

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - A patron saint for handgunners? That's the distinction an Arlington, Va. group has in mind for St. Gabriel Possenti, who is credited with using a handgun to scare off a band of mercenaries terrorizing an Italian village more than 140 years ago.

John Snyder, founder and chairman of The St. Gabriel Possenti Society, has been lobbying the Vatican since 1989 to make Possenti the patron of handgunners.

"The Church recognizes holy men and women outstanding in various ways by designating them patrons or patronesses of these activities," Snyder said. "Law-abiding handgunners, and there are tens of thousands of them in the United States and throughout the world, also should have a specific patron.

"After all, people use handguns millions of times a year to defend innocent life or to thwart the perpetration of criminal acts," he said.

Snyder has not received any response from the Vatican.

In 1860, St. Gabriel Possenti was a Passionate Order monk in the northern Italian village of Isola del Gran Sasso, when a gang of mercenaries attacked the town. After disarming two leaders of the gang, Possenti, carrying a pistol in each hand, is said to have confronted the mercenaries.

At that point, a lizard crawled across the street. Possenti aimed and shot it dead. The mercenaries, frightened of the monk's marksmanship, turned and fled the city. The monk died in 1862 and was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

Snyder unveiled a new campaign Wednesday to spread his message. It involves distributing aluminum tokens bearing the image of St. Gabriel Possenti, flanked by a pistol and a lizard. The back of the token reads: "Support Vatican endorsement of St. Gabriel Possenti as Patron of Handgunners."

Snyder said "churchgoers of various persuasions throughout the United States and the world may send church officials a message by depositing the coins in weekly collection baskets."

He hopes the coin campaign will persuade the Vatican, but admits it might be many years before Rome acts on his request.

"Last year, the Vatican finally named St. Thomas More as the Patron Saint of Politicians after people had been advocating this for many years," Snyder said. "I am hopeful that it will be done, but I wouldn't dare put a timeline on it."

As for using a saint to further a pro-gun point of view, Snyder contends the right to defend one's self is consistent with the right to life.

"I think that this is part in parcel with the movement to defend life," Snyder said. "St. Gabriel Possenti used a handgun to defend an entire village, showing therefore that handguns can be used to preserve life.

"I believe that any organization that believes in the right to life has got to believe in the right for decent people to use guns to defend themselves and other people," he said.

Snyder added that just because his organization is honoring the use of handguns, especially Possenti's use of a gun, it does not mean the group supports everyone who uses guns.

"There are many that use handguns to do horrible things, but there are those who use handguns to do wonderful things, which happens a lot more often than evil uses of handguns," Snyder said. "The way I see it, Saddam Hussein is a politician, but just because we have a patron saint of politicians, that doesn't mean we are honoring Saddam Hussein.

"When the Church sets up a holy person as a patron of some profession or activity, it is showing the good end to which these activities would be put," Snyder said.

Desmond Riley, spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, disagrees with Snyder's reasoning.

"I would think there are a lot of greater causes to make someone a [patron] saint for things other than handguns," Riley said. "I think it is a tenuous stretch, from what this guy did to make him the Patron Saint of Handgunners."

When informed of Snyder's proposal, a spokeswoman from the Violence Policy Center gave a terse response: "No comment."


E-mail a news tip to Jason Pierce.

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