ROME – Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since several Italian judges who had been active in the fight against the mafia were killed along with their guards and escort. Pope Francis, following in the footsteps of the previous popes, has picked up the torch to decry the ongoing violence and corruption in the boot-shaped peninsula.
In a tweet written only in Italian on July 19, Francis once more expressed his closeness to the victims of organized crime. “We pray for all the victims of the Mafias, we ask for the strength to go on, to continue to fight against corruption.”
Preghiamo per tutte le vittime delle mafie, chiediamo la forza di andare avanti, di continuare a lottare contro la corruzione.
— Papa Francesco (@Pontifex_it) July 19, 2017
The summer months in Italy carry the heavy memory of brutal murders, in particular the massacres of Capaci and via D’Amelio in 1992, when Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were killed by the mafia that they had tried so hard to defeat.
The pope’s message inserts itself into the narrative of a fight that has been ongoing in Italy for decades, while at the same time promoting a message of hope in a country where few believe a future without organized crime is possible.
This is demonstrated by the answers to the papal tweet, which for the most part demonstrate a lack of optimism and an open criticism to the Vatican’s role regarding mafia in the not so distant past.
“I would start by eliminating corruption from Vatican City!” writes one disgruntled tweeter. The Institute for Religious Works, also known as the Vatican bank or IOR, was used to launder money in the past, and several instances of corruption have left many Italians feeling disenchanted with the Church’s commitment to the war against corruption.
But Pope Francis, a man of action, has already begun several initiatives aimed at proving the Vatican’s no-tolerance stance.
Last month the Vatican hosted its first conference on corruption and organized crime, inviting 50 prosecutors, U.N. officials, bishops and victims of organized crime for a day of talks.
The goal of the meeting was to develop a new legal doctrine for the Catholic Church around “the question of excommunication for corruption and mafia association.”
This idea is in line with Pope Francis’s 2014 speech in the valley of Sibari in Calabria, the bastion of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia.
“Evil must be fought, you have to say no,” the pope said. “The Church must always work so that good might prevail. Mafiosi are excommunicated, they are not in communion with God.”
Meanwhile, Southern Italian parishes issued decrees prohibiting people associated with mafia to act as godfathers for baptisms or sponsors for confirmations.
The Secretary-General of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Bishop Nunzio Galatino, recently spoke before the Italian Senate concerning the importance of education in defeating the mafia’s grip especially on young people.
“In order to straighten the corrupt situation of our realities (sections of the State, sections of the Church or similar institutions), there is a growing need for educational initiatives, comprised of concrete actions and decisions,” Galatino said.
Another “concrete action” might be on the horizon.
Reforms announced this week by Pope Francis in his letter Maiorem hac dilectionem (“Greater love than this”) expands the categories for sainthood to include those who were not martyred in the strict sense – killed in hatred for the faith – but who made an “offering of their life” (oblatio vitae) that led to their death.
This reform could open up the door for Falcone’s and Borsellino’s beatification, and possibly even canonization. If this were indeed the case, it would not only prove the Church’s commitment to opposing mafia, but it might also be a helpful push in renewing optimism and hope in the growing ranks of disenchanted Italians.