VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholics in mafia-infested areas of southern Italy have to stop simply talking about Christ and become “credible witnesses” by purifying popular local celebrations of anything that hints of a mix of Christianity and tolerance for organized crime, said the bishops of Calabria.

The bishops of the 12 dioceses of Calabria, where the ‘Ndrangheta crime organization is based, met July 17 to draft a message about Christianity and the mafia, pastoral outreach to jailed members of the mafia and guidelines for ensuring processions and other religious celebrations avoid “contamination and deviations” coming from mafia involvement.


The extraordinary meeting of the Calabrian bishops’ conference was prompted by several events: Pope Francis’ late June visit to the region where he said the mafiosi had excommunicated themselves; questions raised by mafia members jailed in Locri who asked their chaplain why they should bother going to Mass if they are excommunicated; and the scandal caused in early July when participants in a Marian procession bowed in front of the house of a presumed mafia boss.

The bishops voted to draw up a “pastoral note” on the mafia and “common pastoral criteria” for processions and other popular religious celebrations, “starting from a conviction that popular traditions are a treasure to safeguard and value as genuine demonstrations of faith.”

A mafia-related addition or manipulation of expressions of popular piety “removes, or at least undermines, their authenticity,” the bishops’ statement said.

Most dioceses and even parishes, they said, already have “antidotes for criminal infiltrations into genuine forms of devotion and popular piety. They must continue to be applied with tenacity from the very moment that the faithful and their confraternities sign up and popular processions are organized.”

Although the pastoral note and guidelines have not been drafted yet, the bishops said, “we intend to emphasize again that the ‘Ndrangheta is a denial of the Gospel.”

“This is not just a criminal organization like many others that engages in illicit actions with means that are just as illicit,” the bishops said. “But, through a distorted and manipulative use of religious rites, it is really and truly a form of reverse religiosity and atheistic sacrality.”

As for convicted members of the ‘Ndrangheta and other mafiosi, the bishops said prison chaplains will continue to offer their services because the church’s mission, “like with any sinner,” is to accompany the person to conversion.