Pope Benedict XVI condemned the organized crime that plagues the far reaches of southern Italy during a one-day visit to the area on Sunday.
He noted the region's beauty, but said “an often vicious criminality wounds the social fabric” and combines with unemployment to make the place “a land that seems to live in a state of constant emergency.”
The Pope made his comments during a homily delivered to over 40,000 people at a public Mass in the town of Lamezia Terme in Calabria.
He urged local people not to be afraid “to live and witness to faith in the various sectors of society.” Instead, he said, they should show themselves as “strong, confident and courageous,” knowing that when they face opposition they can find inspiration in the words of St. Paul: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
Calabria is home to the secretive Ndrangheta gang, which masterminds much of Europe’s organized crime, including money laundering, drug trafficking and racketeering. The region also has an unemployment rate of about 32 percent, four times higher than the national average.
Prior to the Mass, Mayor Gianni Speranza of Lamezia Terme told Pope Benedict how his people had to live with “unacceptable unemployment, and dramatic injustice and violence.” They “cannot allow the dominion of the mafia and organized crime to grow stronger.” He thanked the Pope for his presence, saying it gave them all “courage and a voice.”
“Never give in to the temptations of pessimism and retreat in on yourselves,” urged the Pope in his homily.
“Rely on the resources of your faith and your human capacities; strive to grow in the ability to collaborate, to take care of each other and the public good,” he said.
The Pope also used his homily to discuss today’s Gospel, where Christ recounts the parable of the wedding guest who is thrown out of the banquet for not wearing a wedding garment. Drawing upon the thought of his sixth century papal predecessor, St. Gregory the Great, Pope Benedict explained its meaning.
“We are all invited to be guests of the Lord, to come with faith to His banquet, but we must wear and cherish the wedding garment, charity, a life of profound love for God and neighbor,” he said.
At the conclusion of Mass, the Pope prayed the midday Angelus with those in attendance. He entrusted congregants and their region to the protection of Our Lady.
“Let us invoke the intercession of Mary for the most serious social problems in this area and the whole of Calabria,” he said, “especially those related to unemployment, young people and the protection of persons with disabilities who require greater attention from all."