Two weeks after Pope Francis’ harsh condemnation of mafia corruption in the Italian region of Calabria, police abandoned a Marian procession which paused to bow in front of the house of a mafia leader.
According to Italian news agency ANSA, anti-mafia activists in southern Calabria have officially opened an investigation regarding a July 2 procession in the town of Oppido Mamertina carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary.
While in the midst of their route the procession paused in front of the home of local 'Ndrangheta leader Peppe Mazzagatti, 82, who is currently serving a life-sentence and is under house-arrest due to health reasons. Those bearing the Marian statue made a gesture like a bow in front of Mazzagatti’s house.
Following the gesture, ANSA reports that the Italian Carabinieri, a branch of the police, accompanying the statue abandoned the procession and later called anti-mafia prosecutors, who are investigating whether or not the stop was planned, and who is responsible.
Although such acts of reverence are frequent due to the fact that the local mafia, referred to as the “’Ndrangheta” in Calabria, are often prominently involved in the church, the Carabinieri’s abandonment of the procession marks a first for local papers, and signifies a condemnation of the homage paid to the mafia leader.
The act of the Carabinieri also bears significant weight because members of the ‘Ndrangheta can be found among their ranks, even influencing their superiors. Therefore the Carabinieri’s leave signifies a strong visible division among them.
Fr. Ennio Stamile, a parish priest in the Calabrian town of Cetraro who has been targeted by the 'Ndrangheta numerous times for his commitment against organized crime, spoke with CNA July 8, cautioning against stirring up “too much media attention following the Pope's words” due to the fact that it gives more attention to mafia bosses.
However, he stated that in general the reaction of Calabria citizens to the Pope’s words “has been positive,” the priest noted, recalling how the pontiff referred to members of the mafia adorers “of evil, like those who live by dishonesty and violence.”
Recounting how the Pope also said that mobsters are “not in communion with God. They are ‘excommunicated,’” Fr. Stamile explained that “They were strong words, pronounced on the plain of Sybaris, and of clear and precise condemnation, even using the word excommunication.”
“The people are very impressed with by this clear and distinct stance on the part of the Holy Father,” he said, and “it has remained materially felt in the minds...the words of hope, the acts of charity...”
Observing how there are some advocating to end processions in the region due to the continuation of similar acts of homage to mafia leaders, the priest affirmed that there is a great need “to educate religions more on these manifestations of popular piety.”
“For me there is no need to remove them, there is a need to educate the people… I agree with education, not with removing. And when we don't (educate), it's our failure as priests. We need to be more attentive to this.”
Pope Francis’ words signify a “precise action from a pastoral point of view,” Fr. Stamile noted, because “the responsibility of us priests is to educate consciences…not condemning people.”
“And to educate consciences means also to create social, cultural, educational paths, etc. so that all consciences are formed, the men are formed. And we really need to be present there to bring the Gospel.”
Reflecting on the next steps that can be taken in fighting the mafia, the priest stated that “we need common pastoral guidelines for the dioceses and all parishes,” particularly regarding the celebration of funerals for mafia members as well as their reception of communion.
This way everyone can “apply the principles that everyone has applied for many years, to decide how to act in specific cases,” he said. “This must be done. Everything else is emphasized chatter from those who don't know anything.”