VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As the bishops and faithful of Sicily remembered St. John Paul II’s visit in 1993 and, especially, his “prophetic invective” against the Mafia, Pope Francis urged them to continue the fight against organized crime.
In a brief message read at a Mass in Agrigento, Italy, May 9, Pope Francis told the people that evil “is fought with the daily, meek and courageous practice of the Gospel.”
The papal message and the Mass marked 25 years since the visit of St. John Paul when, at the end of a Mass in Agrigento, as ushers prepared to remove the microphone from the altar, St. John Paul took hold of it and spoke extemporaneously about the criminal underworld.
The pope had said Sicilians were being held hostage by a minority criminal culture, and he described the Mafia as “a culture of death, profoundly inhuman, anti-Gospel, an enemy of human dignity and civil peace.”
His voice ringing with anger and his hand clenched in a fist, St. John Paul declared: “In the name of Christ, I say to those responsible: Convert! One day you will face the judgment of God!”
In addition to the commemorative Mass, the regional bishops’ conference of Sicily published a pastoral letter titled, “Convert,” reminding people that St. John Paul had prayed for “harmony in this land. Harmony without deaths, without assassinations, without fear, without threats, without victims.”
The bishops urged Sicilians to reread St. John Paul’s speeches in Sicily and to recognize that while his call to conversion was addressed in a sharp way to those involved in organized crime, it also was a call to all the region’s people to rediscover and reaffirm the noblest parts of their heritage and stand up to evil and corruption.
The Mafia is not only a sign of “very serious crime, but also of a disastrous cultural deficit and, consequently, a blatant betrayal of the history of Sicily,” the bishops said. It is a sign of a “spiritual anemia” and a “fatal crack in religious virtues.”
The bishops acknowledged that the church in Sicily had often been an accomplice of the Mafia by omission — not condemning Mafia activity clearly enough and maintaining silence when known Mafia members approached the church for sacraments.
Statements by bishops affirming that Mafia members have excommunicated themselves are reported in the media, but seem to have no lasting impact, the bishops said.
The excommunication is still in force, the bishops said. “Those who prefer to be entrenched in sin and walk the dead-end path of corruption condemn themselves.”
But what is most worrying, they said, is that “the Christian discourse about the Mafia for too long has remained just on paper and for decades has not been and is not translated into an educational spirit able to raise up new generations of believers.”
Help keep Catholic media free, support CatholicPhilly.com
You may have noticed “pay walls” greeting you when you visit the websites of newspapers and magazines, both large and small. These mechanisms allow you to read a few articles for free before you’ve got to pay an annual fee if you want to see more.
You won’t find a pay wall on CatholicPhilly.com because we’re more than a news organization. We’re informing, inspiring and forming readers in the Catholic faith every day through the news, features and commentaries that we post on this site and share across social media.
It costs money to provide high-quality coverage of the local Catholic communities we primarily serve, while also distributing national and world news of interest to Catholics, plus the orthodox teachings of the Catholic faith.
Help us in this mission by making a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Or by credit card here: