Pope Francis has bitterly denounced the Calabrian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta, following the killing of a three-year-old boy caught up in a Mafia "execution" in Cassano allo Jonio in Calabria last week.
Speaking at his Sunday Angelus, the Pope called on the faithful to pray for Coco Campolongo, burned to death as he sat in a baby seat in his grandfather’s car.
“This ferocity against such a small child seems unprecedented in the annals of organised crime,” said the Pontiff. “Let us pray with Coco, who is surely now in heaven with Jesus, for the people who committed this crime so that they might repent and be converted to the Lord”
Little Coco had the misfortune to be sitting in his baby seat in the back of a Fiat Punto car when mafia killers shot his grandfather, 52-year Giuseppe Iannicelli along with his 27-year-old Moroccan partner, Ibtisssan Tous. Police believe that the car was then immediately burnt in the remote rural zone where it was later discovered by a hunter out for a Sunday shoot.
When investigators examined the car, they found three bodies with Coco’s grandfather shut in the boot, whilst the Moroccan woman was still in the front passenger seat and the child was still in his baby-seat. Police point to a 50 cent coin left on the roof of the burnt-out car as an ‘Ndrangheta “signature”.
Investigators believe that Mr Iannicelli, a man with a drugs-related criminal record, had been enticed to a “settling of accounts” rendez-vous by his killers, perhaps in relation to debts he had incurred with the ‘Ndrangheta.
Little Coco had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time because, given that both his parents are currently detained in prison, he was being looked after by his grandfather. It may be that in going to the rendez-vous with the child and his partner, Mr Iannicelli believed he was guaranteeing himself a certain “security”.
However, the ugly reality is that, despite what Pope Francis said during the Angelus, the killing of children by organised crime is by no means unprecedented. Of the many such cases in recent times, perhaps the killing of 11-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo in January 1996 is the most infamous.
Giuseppe was the son of Santino Di Matteo, a member of Cosa Nostra who played a role in the organization of the 1992 killing of Sicilian mafia investigator, Giovanni Falcone. When Santino Di Matteo turned state's witness in prison and began to collaborate with investigators, Cosa Nostra took a cruel revenge by kidnapping his son. After holding him prisoner for two years, Cosa Nostra then strangled Giuseppe Di Matteo before dissolving his body in acid.
In his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1st, Pope Francis issued a bitter condemnation of organised crime, saying that it represents "a huge offence to God". The recent appointment of Bishop Nunzio Galantino, based in Cassano allo Jonio, as secretary general of the Italian Bishops Conference would appear to indicate the importance Pope Francis attributes to the fight against organised crime.