Pope Francis called on the mafia to "stop doing evil" as he met relatives of some of the victims of organised crime on Friday, a move aimed at reversing the perception that the Church maintains strong social and financial ties with mafia leaders.
"Men and women of the mafia ... change your way of life. Stop doing evil, convert," the pontiff said.
Over a thousand people were in attendance as a list of 842 names, all victims of mafia violence, were read out and prayers were said at a church near the Vatican.
The victims included scores of children – including a toddler killed this week in a revenge attack – and renowned anti-mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was blown up in his car in 1992.
"There is still time to avoid ending up in hell, which is where you are going if you continue down this path," Francis warned the country's mafiosi.
He told them to relinquish their "blood-stained money", which he said "cannot be taken into paradise".
Pope Francis is looking to make clear that Church doctrine and the activities of organised crime leaders are incompatible, said one anti-mafia activist.
He "wants to make it known that the gospel and the mafia, the gospel and corruption, the gospel and illegality, cannot go hand in hand," father Marcello Cozzi, deputy president of the anti-mafia Libera association, told AFP ahead of the ceremony.
Numerous priests fight against the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Naples, sometimes paying for their bravery with their lives.
But the Church also has a darker history.
Mafia dons have often received lavish religious funerals and presented themselves as good Catholic benefactors, stepping in to serve local residents where the state has failed to help. They also claim to live by a "code of honour".
Father Cozzi said the murder of a 3-year-old this week in a retaliatory attack was the latest proof that such an honour code does not exist and never has.
"In the list of victims' names there are at least 80 minors. A mafia which does not kill children does not exist, they have always killed children," he said.
'An open wound'
It was the main shareholder of the Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed in 1982 amid accusations it had mafia associations. Its chairman, Roberto Calvi – dubbed "God's Banker" – was found hanging from a London bridge that year in a suspected mob hit.
Francis has moved fast since his election last year to clean up the Vatican's scandal-plagued finances, setting up a commission tasked with reform and bringing in external auditors. Suspect accounts have been closed or flagged for investigation.
The dirty accounts "are an open wound", Cozzi said, adding that if the Church is serious about tackling organised crime, full transparency is the first step.
The task has become more urgent than ever as the mafia increasingly swaps risky business dealings like weapons trafficking or drug smuggling for financial crimes.
"The real territory that needs controlling is a virtual one, with no borders, no tolls, no customs: the economy," he said.
Usury has also become big business in the wake of the economic crisis, with criminal groups now "the only ones in possession of much-needed liquidity".
As well as casting light on its murky books, the Vatican has made efforts recently to honour those religious leaders who have stood up to the mafia.
Last year, murdered priest Giuseppe Puglisi was beatified for his tireless attempts to help young people in the Sicilian city of Palermo escape the clutches of the "Octopus", as the Cosa Nostra is nicknamed.
The pontiff has also made a point of speaking out firmly against human trafficking, which Cozzi said was "one of the mafia's big businesses".
Nicola Gratteri, a respected state prosecutor in the southern Calabria region, said in November that the 'Ndrangheta was "nervous" in the wake of the Vatican moves.
"Those who up to now have fed off the power and wealth coming directly from the Church are nervous, upset," he said.
The pope "is dismantling the Vatican's economic centres", he said. "If the mafia bosses can trip him up, they won't hesitate."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-22