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"Stop doing evil": Pope Francis takes on the mafia

“Men and women of the mafia… change your way of life. Stop doing evil, convert,” he said.

Image: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

POPE FRANCIS HAS called on the mafia to “stop doing evil” as he met relatives of their victims today to demonstrate the Catholic Church’s opposition to organised crime.

Over a thousand people attended prayers with the pope at a church near the Vatican, where a list of 842 names of victims of mafia violence were read out — including butchered toddlers and renowned anti-mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone, blown up in his car in 1992.

The meeting was an attempt to draw a line under the Church’s historic ties with dons claiming to be God-fearing Catholics.

“Men and women of the mafia… change your way of life. Stop doing evil, convert,” the pontiff said.

“Ending up in hell”

“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 Italy’s mobsters to relinquish their “blood-stained money” which “cannot be taken into paradise.”

Francis “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 Italian Church also has a darker side.

“Code of honour”

Mafia dons have historically attended mass, often receiving lavish funerals and presenting 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”.

Cozzi said the murder of a three-year-old this week in mafia retaliation was the latest proof that such a code did not exist, and has never done so.

“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’

The Church has long been marred by reports of financial corruption, with the Vatican Bank embroiled in claims of mafia money-laundering.

It was the main shareholder of the Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed in 1982 amid accusations of mafia association. Its chairman Roberto Calvi — dubbed “God’s Banker” — was found hanging from a London bridge that year in a suspected murder by mobsters.

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 inviting in external auditors. Suspect accounts have been closed or flagged up for deeper inspection.

The dirty accounts “are an open wound”, and if the Church is serious about tackling organised crime, full transparency is the first step, Cozzi said.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: How would you rate Pope Francis’ first year in office? >

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