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Pope Francis greets people as he visits Cassano allo Ionio, in Italy's Calabria region, June 21. At an outdoor Mass attended by 250,000 people in nearby Sibari, the pope said "mafiosi" are not in communion with God and are excommunicated. The Calabria region is home of the 'Ndrangheta crime organization, known for drug trafficking.

Vatican City

Pope condemns mafia, says members are excommunicated

By CINDY WOODEN, Catholic News Service | Published June 27, 2014

VATICAN CITY (CNS)—In the stronghold of an Italian crime syndicate believed to be richer and more powerful than the Sicilian Mafia, Pope Francis said, “Those who follow the path of evil, like the mafiosi do, are not in communion with God; they are excommunicated!”

During a Mass June 21 in the southern region of Calabria, Pope Francis made clear that even if the mob families continue to go to Mass and decorate their homes and hideouts with religious pictures, they have cut themselves off from communion with the church and with God.

“When instead of adoring the Lord, one substitutes the adoration of money, one opens the path to sin, personal interests and exploitation,” Pope Francis said to applause from an estimated 250,000 people gathered in a field near the town of Sibari. “When one does not adore the Lord God, one becomes an adorer of evil, like those who live lives of crime and violence.”

“Your land, which is so beautiful, knows the signs and consequences of this sin. This is what the ‘Ndrangheta is: the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good,” Pope Francis said. The ‘Ndrangheta is a crime syndicate based in Calabria.

The pope began his nine-hour visit to the Diocese of Cassano allo Ionio meeting prisoners at the Rosetta Sisca jail in Castrovillari. At the jail, he met the father and grandmothers of Nicola Campolongo, a 3-year-old killed with his grandfather in January. The boy’s parents, and several other relatives, are in jail on drug trafficking charges. Italian police said it appeared the boy was caught in the crossfire between rival clans over a drug deal.

In a speech to all the detainees and staff, Pope Francis called for prisons to offer programs aimed at rehabilitation: “When this objective is overlooked, the penalty becomes an instrument only of punishment and social retaliation, which damages both the individual and society.”

The pope also told the prisoners to use their time in prison to think about the impact of their crimes on their families, society and their relationship with God.

“The Lord is a master at rehabilitation,” the pope said. “He takes us by the hand and brings us back into the social community. The Lord always forgives, always accompanies, always understands; it is up to us to let ourselves be understood, forgiven and accompanied.”

Before leaving, Pope Francis made his usual request for prayers, then added: “Because I, too, have done wrong and I, too, must repent.”

The pope also visited a hospice for the terminally ill. Italian news media quoted him as telling the staff, patients and their family members that holding and caressing someone are the best uses of one’s hands. “Sickness is awful, but hands are powerful,” he said. Through people’s hands, “the caress from God’s hands touches the depths of one’s being.”