Pope Francis has stated that a mob hit carried out in Italy is without precedent in the history of crime. On January 19, three-year-old Nicola Campolongo’s charred body was found in a torched car with what looks to be a bullet wound in the back of the skull. The bodies of his grandfather, Giuseppe Lannicelli, and an unconfirmed Moroccan woman also were found and appeared to have suffered similar fates. Lannicelli appeared to be the intended target of the hit as he was under house arrest on a drug related conviction. A coin was found in the remains of the car, which usually signifies that the victim owed a monetary debt to the mafia. The ‘Ndarangheta crime organization is suspected of the killing that has rocked Italy and prompted responses from numerous Italian officials.
Mob hits are not entirely uncommon in Italy, but the circumstances of the situation have certainly caused Italians to take issue. The manner in which the young child was brutality killed has sparked outrage against mob violence. An experienced Italian prosecutor named Franco Giacomantonio expressed that Nicola’s killing was the most vicious murder he had ever been faced with. The Italian Interior Minister and National Police Chief have since signed a protocol to attempt to protect similarly vulnerable children. Many young Italian children are often subject to mafia interaction and therefore are susceptible to violent acts. Nicola’s murder shows that criminal groups are willing to indiscriminately kill children. This has prompted authorities to begin establishing further protection mechanisms.
Pope Francis in his weekly address to the faithful in Vatican City appeared shocked at the murder. He stated that the young boy’s death was unprecedented in the history of crime and pleaded with the killers to repent. Francis asked the crowd at Saint Peter’s Square to pray for the souls of all involved, including the hit men, and assured the devout that Nicola was “now certainly with Jesus in heaven.” The Pope has been critical of mob violence in the past and it is viewed that his liberal idea of changing the power structure of the Roman Catholic Church could be harmful to mafia interests. In November, a prominent Italian prosecutor warned that the new reform efforts were making the ‘Ndarangheta organization “very nervous” and it was possible the Pope himself could even be a target of a hit.
The bishop of Cassano allo Ionio, the town in which the victims were found, also expressed shock at the murder. In a special prayer service, the bishop claimed that he was appalled at the level of violence that the perpetrators committed. The bishop asked churchgoers to pray for the victims and was perplexed at how the mobsters committed the acts amid hearing Nicola’s cries.
Anti-mob sentiment in Italy seems to be at its highest level in years. The crime that has been described as unprecedented by the Pope has shown the nation that organized criminal groups are willing to make children pay for acts they did not commit. The head of the regional government of the area in which the atrocity took place has asked Italians to not remain silent about mafia related crimes in order to protect the lives of innocents. Despite the Pope’s prayers, similar violent acts will most likely occur in the future. However, his words hopefully will give Italians comfort as they mourn the death of this young boy.
By Peter Grazul