Pope Francis to visit Mafia stronghold this weekend
By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
7/23/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Incensed about the loss of innocent life in his immediate surroundings, Pope Francis plans to travel to the Mafia stronghold of Caserta, near Naples this weekend in an effort to set things right. The murder of three-year-old Nicola "Coco" Campolongo, a boy who burned to death in his grandfather's car in a Mafia ambush in January spurred the pontiff to action.
Pope Francis' stance against organized crime is seen as remarkable; the Mafia and the Catholic Church have previously been seen by many as having "cozy" relations.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - At that time, the Pope spoke out against the ferocity of the crime and those behind it. The outspoken pontiff traveled to the southern Italian town where the murder took place in June and accused Mafia members of pursuing the "adoration of evil.
"They are not with God," Francis said during his visit to the nearby town of Sibari in the region of Calabria where the global crime syndicate 'Ndrangheta is based.
"They are excommunicated!" Later, at a local prison, Francis embraced Coco's father and two grandmothers and declared "this evil must be fought and distanced."
This will be the second trip to the heart of Italy's Mafia country. In the meantime, experts are debating the impact of his uncompromising stance and what it means for his papacy.
"I think it's significant because this society is divided," Philip Willan, the British author of "The Vatican at War," says. Willan's book which was released last year and examines the relations between the Holy See and organized crime against the backdrop of the Cold War.
"The church has been divided over what sort of stance to take against organized crime. When the pope puts his weight decisively behind the people fighting that battle, he gives them extra strength and encouragement," Willan says.
Francis will celebrate Mass and meet Catholic clergy in Caserta this Saturday. The headquarters of the powerful Casalesi clan, the group's vast crime syndicate includes drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion and money laundering.
For a pope who has taken such a strong stand on poverty, social justice and inequality, his approach to the Mafia comes as little surprise. Sadly, in Italy, the Catholic hierarchy and the Mafia have enjoyed a cozy relationship for years.
The Argentine-born pope is seen as shaking things up and setting new boundaries. "I think it's simply his desire to be coherent with the Christian message; he sees organized crime as radically incompatible with Christianity," Willan said.
"And he is reaffirming that this has been forgotten or watered down in the past."
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