VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis will travel to the heartland of the Italian mafia for the first time Saturday (June 21), visiting the southern town where a 3-year-old was murdered in a local drug war earlier this year.

Cassano all'Ionio's clocktower is a distinctive feature of the town, which is among the poorest regions in Italy and is the site of Pope Francis' June 21 visit.

Cassano all’Ionio’s clocktower is a distinctive feature of the town, which is among the poorest regions in Italy and is the site of Pope Francis’ June 21 visit. Creative Commons image by DonGatley

Security will be extremely tight when the pope makes his one-day visit to Cassano allo Ionio in Calabria, one of Italy’s poorest regions, in what is certain to be his most powerful political statement against organized crime.

The trip has renewed questions about Francis’ health; on Thursday, Vatican officials said he would not lead a religious procession on the streets of Rome late Thursday so that he could save his energy for his trip to Calabria.

Francis, who had already put his weekly audiences and daily Mass on hold for much of the summer, opted to travel by car less than a mile between the St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major basilicas instead of leading a candle-lit procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

In Calabria, the 77-year-old pontiff will go to a prison and a hospital and have lunch with the poor in the area before celebrating Mass with as many as 100,000 pilgrims.

On his visit to Castrovillari Prison, Francis is not expected to meet inmate Nicola Campolongo, father of the slain toddler Nicola, or “Coco,” whose charred remains were found in a burned-out car with the bodies of his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion in January.

Church officials also said there were no plans for the pope to meet the child’s mother, Antonia Iannicelli, who is living under house arrest and made a personal plea to meet the pontiff.

The brutal killing shocked Italians accustomed to reports of mafia violence and prompted a heartfelt response from Francis, who urged the killers to “repent.”

Referring to the “globalization of evil,” the secretary-general of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, said Francis offered hope with his “simplicity and determination.”

“We are losing hope, we don’t know who to turn to, we have no credible political leaders,” said Galantino, who is also the bishop of Cassano. “Even in the church we are no longer enthusiastic.”

Francis’ frank determination to challenge organized crime groups has sparked warnings that he could become a mafia target. The pope met the families of mafia victims in May and warned mobsters that they would “go to hell” if they did not repent.

Last November, respected anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who investigates the Calabrian mafia or ‘Ndrangheta, said: “If the mafia bosses can trip him up, they won’t hesitate.”

In a recent interview with the Spanish daily La Vanguardia, the pope shrugged off concerns about his own security, saying he did not want to travel in a protective bulletproof vehicle that was like a “sardine can.”

“It’s true that anything could happen,” he said, “but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose.”

KRE/MG END McKENNA

 

9 Comments

  1. Pope Francis is going to Mafia country
    because he will be conducting a workshop
    on how to run a criminal organization.

    And he will take a few notes of his own.

    What ELSE could they possibly talk about?

    • You should give Francis a little more credit than that, Max. Gotta admit, the decision to walk into the Mafia’s front yard after telling them to “repent”, is no joke. Give credit where it is due.

      So now we need to get this gay-marriage Pope to get really serious and do the right thing in America too. Like walk into San Francisco without an invitation, and publicly tell the GAY MAFIA to either “repent” or “go to Hell”!!!

      • I’m not being rhetorical.
        The Catholic Church is an international crime syndicate.
        It is not an accident that the Maffia grows from the fundamental immorality of Catholic Christian culture.

  2. The Great God Pan

    Does anyone seriously think the Mafia is going to assassinate the Pope because he told them they were naughty and they had better tell Jesus they’re sorry?

    I’m sure his heart is in the right place, but he doesn’t appear to be advocating anything that would actually hinder them (that would require secular action: major reform, not threats of Hellfire). Most of them have already reconciled their actions with their Catholicism, anyway. Criminals with religious beliefs are good at ignoring the “moral teachings” that are supposedly so central to their creeds.

    This post has some interesting information on the Mafia and Catholicism, including an account of how the Camorra family views its criminal activities in relation to its religion:

    www.mozzarellamamma.com/2014/the-catholic-church-and-the-mafia/

  1. […] Pope Francis will travel to the heartland of the Italian mafia for the first time Saturday (June 21), visiting the southern town where a 3-year-old was murdered in a local drug war earlier this year. Security will be extremely tight when the pope makes his one-day visit to Cassano allo Ionio in Calabria, one of Italy’s poorest regions, in what is certain to be his most powerful political statement against organized crime. The trip has renewed questions about Francis’ health; on Thursday, Vatican officials said he would not lead a religious procession on the streets of Rome late Thursday so that he could save his energy for his trip to Calabria. Francis, who had already put his weekly audiences and daily Mass on hold for much of the summer, opted to travel by car less than a mile between the St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major basilicas instead of leading a candle-lit procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi. [Read more] […]

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