At a Friday meeting and prayer vigil with families of mafia victims, Pope Francis shared his sympathy with them, and then forcefully exhorted mafiosi to convert and change their lives.
“I wish to share with you a hope, and it is this: that the sense of responsibility will slowly, slowly win out over corruption, in every part of the world,” the Roman Pontiff said March 21 to members of the Libera Foundation, an organization dedicated to fighting organized crime across Italy.
“This must begin from within, from the conscience, and from there restore, restore behaviors, relationships, choices, the social fabric, so that justice will flourish, take root, and take the place of iniquity,” he said at Rome’s St. Gregory VII parish to some 700 family members of mafia victims.
He continued, saying, “I know you feel this hope strongly, and I want to share it with you, to tell you I’ll be with you again, this night and tomorrow … even if I cannot physically come, I’ll be with you in this way, which requires tenacity, and perseverance.”
The Pope thanked the participants for their openness, “for telling your story of pain, and hope. This is very important, especially for the young!”
“I wish to pray with you – and I do this from my heart – for all the victims of the mafia.”
He referred to Tuesday’s killing of a family in Taranto, in which a convicted murderer, his girlfriend, and her 2-year-old son, were forced off the road by gunmen who riddled their car with bullets. He called it “a crime that has no mercy, not even for a baby.”
“But at the same time we pray together, all of us, asking for the strength to keep going, to not be discouraged, but to continue to fight against corruption.”
Turning to those involved in organized crime, Pope Francis said, “I feel that I cannot conclude without saying a word to the protagonists who are absent today -- the men and women mafiosi. Please change your lives, convert yourselves, stop perpetrating evil!”
“And we pray for you. I ask this on my knees. It is for your good … the power and money that you have now from many dirty dealings, from many mafia crimes – blood money, power gained with blood – you cannot bring them with you to the next life.”
He urged them: “Be converted, you still have time, so as not to end up in hell. That is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path.”
“You have a father and a mother: think of them. Cry a little, and be converted.”
Concluding, he led the participants in praying a Hail Mary.
The Libera Foundation was established in 1995 with the goal of encouraging society to fight against organized crime and to promote justice, and is chaired by Fr. Luigi Ciotti.
According to the Transcrime research center, the mafia has its strongest presence in the North-Western and central regions of Italy, and is responsible for the majority of the illegal activity in the country, the most important of which include sexual exploitation, firearms trafficking, drugs, counterfeiting, gambling, illegal waste trafficking, illegal tobacco trafficking, usury, and extortion.