Rome Newsroom, Sep 11, 2020 / 09:30 am
During a visit to a Marian shrine in southern Italy this week, the Vatican Secretary of State issued a warning that Marian devotion must be safeguarded from mafia exploitation.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin offered Mass for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary -- a date associated with the Italian Marian devotion to Madonna delle Grazie, or Our Lady of Grace -- at the Shrine of Torre Ruggiero in Calabria, the region that is home to the ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, one of the most powerful mafia groups in Italy.
Italian media reported that during a procession of the Madonna delle Grazie in Reggio Calabria in 2014 the procession stopped in front of the house of a mafia boss under house arrest as a sign of respect. This is one example of how Marian devotion can become entangled with mafia culture in southern Italy.
“Popular piety is a great treasure that the Church cannot do without precisely because it supports faith in all situations. But it also needs to be purified from some elements that are not appropriate, all the more so if they are underworld or criminal elements,” Parolin said Sept. 8, according to L’Osservatore Romano.
At the Mass, Archbishop Vincenzo Bertolone of Catanzaro-Squillace in Calabria told the cardinal: “Old and new mafia forces try to pollute popular faith with malignant weeds, passing off a pseudo religion as devout. From this sanctuary, your presence recalls the duty to free the devotion of the Madonna from any risk of exploitation.”
Parolin said: “There is a lot of work to be done to which pastors dedicate themselves with great attention ... We must be careful not to throw away the baby with the bathwater.”
With these statements, the Vatican Secretary of State echoed Pope Francis’ approval of an initiative of the Pontifical International Marian Academy (PAMI) to counter mafia organizations’ use of the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary to promote submission to the will of the mafia boss.
A working group starting in October will bring together about 40 Church and civil leaders to address this issue, to “restore the purity of the image of Jesus and Mary which comes from the Gospels,” Fr. Stefano Cecchin told CNA in an interview on Aug. 20.