Pope Francis has issued a heartfelt plea to the mafia, asking them to renounce their evil ways or end up spending the rest of eternity in hell. His strong words were spoken during a recent meeting with the relatives of victims in Rome, which in itself is an extremely rare occurrence and never done before by a pontiff.
Held in a church just outside the Vatican City, the gathering was part of a yearly day of remembrance put into place by the anti-mafia organization in order for people to commemorate those lost at the hands of the mafia. The Pope’s presence at such an event is widely thought to be an attempt by the Catholic Church to distance themselves further from the longstanding belief that it has ties with crime syndicate, many members of which profess to being staunch followers of Catholicism themselves.
During his speech, Pope Francis warned that the blood-stained money obtained by Italy’s dons “cannot be taken into paradise,” and that they should surrender their ill-gotten gains now as there is still time for them to avoid ending up in hell. His statement was supported by anti-mafia association Deputy President Marcello Cozzi, who reiterated the fact that the gospel and the mafia “cannot go hand in hand”.
During the ceremony, a list of 842 names were read out to the one thousand people that attended. These names were of people who had fallen victim to mafia violence since 1893, and included famed anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone who was assassinated in a car explosion in 1992.
Pope Francis’ plea to the mafia made specific reference to Domenico Petruzzelli, a boy murdered with his mother and her partner in an apparent mob hit in southern Italy on Monday. Petruzzelli was just 3 years old.
The mafia originated in the Italian region of Sicily around the mid-1800’s within the enterprise of protection racketeering (guarding business interests through use of violence) and quickly grew to have influence over vest areas of the country. It has a strict code of conduct, in particular omertà (the code of silence) and members regularly refer to themselves as “men of honor”. Since the late 19th century, multiple other countries have developed mafia-like organizations as well, including America and Japan.
Pope Francis is the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, succeeding Pope Benedict XVI on March 13th, 2013. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, he worked as a chemical technician and a nightclub bouncer before entering the Society of Jesus in 1958. Whilst upholding Catholic doctrine on topics such as contraception and homosexuality, he surprised many by stating that gay people should not be marginalized if they truly seek God.
The Pope’s strong words in relation to the mafia contrast with that of previous pontiffs, who were seen to be reluctant to condemn the bosses of such organized crime. When John Paul II spoke out against the mob in 1993, two historic churches were bombed in Rome just months later, so the world can only hope that a similar form of retaliation does not occur in response to Pope Francis and his plea to the mafia this time around.
Opinion by Zachary John