In a symbolic move, Pope Francis yesterday met more than 900 relatives of victims of Mafia violence for a prayer service in the church of San Gregorio VII in Rome.
Addressing people who had come from all over Italy, the pope issued an admonition to participants in organised crime: “Change your lives, convert and stop doing evil,” he said. “Repent now or otherwise you will go to hell, for that is what awaits you if you continue down this road. You have a father and mother, think of them.”
He added: “I want to share a great hope with you, namely that bit by bit a sense of responsibility triumphs over corruption in every part of the world.”
The gathering was organised by Libera, a foundation run by Italian priest Don Luigi Ciotti, who for much of the last 30 years has campaigned against organised crime. Don Ciotti met Pope Francis at the Vatican in January, when he outlined Libera's anti-Mafia initiatives. Speaking yesterday, Don Ciotti said: "The church hasn't always been attentive to the victims of Mafia violence and to the phenomenon of organised crime. At times, there has been too much caution, too much underestimation, but there have also been moments of enlightenment, such as Pope John Paul II's cry against the Mafia [in 1993]."
Don Ciotti said Pope Francis’s decision to be the first pope to attend the prayer vigil indicated “his concern about organised crime, corruption and all forms of injustice that undermine human dignity”.
Among the relatives in the church yesterday was Rosaria Costa, widow of Vito Schifani, a policeman killed along with Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone in May 1992.
Ms Costa is a symbolic figure in the fight against organised crime. During the funeral service for Mr Falcone's colleague Paolo Borsellino, also killed by Cosa Nostra in 1992, she interrupted the then cardinal of Palermo, Salvatore Pappalardo, shouting: "You should tell them [the mafiosi] that they will go to hell, that they will not have life eternal, otherwise you're not giving them a serious sermon at all."