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Vatican Connections: November 22, 2013

Alicia Ambrosio

November 22, 2013
 This week: Pope Francis is set to release a document on evangelization, Google uncovers the catacombs, and Cardinal Zen shares his insights into the relationship between the Holy See and China. 
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One story that didn't make into this week's program but merits a second look is Pope Francis and the mafia. 
Pope Francis has made the Italian Mafia uncomfortable, according to one of Italy’s top anti-Mafia prosecutors.
Nicola Gratteri, a anti-mafia prosecutor for the Region of Calabria. He recently released a book exploring the relationship between the Church and the mafia. In an interview with the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, he said the mafia has a history of working with corrupt Vatican officials to launder money through the Vatican Bank.
 Pope Francis’ early reforms of the Holy See’s financial structures have signaled a zero tolerance approach to corruption, thus making the mafia nervous, Mr. Gratteri said.  He also said the mafia would not hesitate to stop Pope Francis’ reforms if the opportunity arose.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesperson, told reporters “the Vatican is not concerned at all, there is no alarm.”
To the North American mind the notion that the mafia might get nervous over a prelate’s preaching, to the point of doing something about it, might seem far fetched. For southern Italian Catholics, it is a sad fact of life.
In May 2013 Fr. Pino Puglisi was beatified in a ceremony in Palermo, Sicily and recognized as a martyr. Fr. Puglisi was killed in 1993 in front of his parish rectory in mafia-execution style. He was shot in neck, once, at close range.  Fr. Puglisi preached often against the mafia. He also worked with young people in the neighbourhood, encouraging them to turn their backs on the mafia and reject the status quo. Pope Benedict approved his beatification as a martyr, saying he was killed "in hatred of the faith."
In Caserta, near Naples, Fr. Giuseppe Diana suffered a similar fate. He also preached against the mafia, encouraged his parishioners to shun the mafia, and worked with immigrants at risk of being lured into organized crime by the promise of wealth. In 1991 he wrote a document titled “For love of my people,” which is considered a pastoral document and an anti-mafia manifesto. In 1994 he was killed in the sacristy of his church as he prepared to celebrate Mass.
Bishops have not been immune from backlash. In 2008 then-Bishop of Piazza Armerina Michele Pennisi refused to celebrate the funeral of a known mafia boss in his cathedral. He received death threats as a result and had to be assigned a police security detail. 
Under Italian law the assets of people involved in organized crime can be confiscated and handed over to a local government or an association or cooperative. Several organizations have created agricultural cooperatives using land confiscated from the mafia. The products are sold is small, ultramodern boutique shops throughout Italy. 
The organization Libera, which was founded in 1995 by Fr. Luigi Ciotti, was instrumental in the creation of that law. Today Libera has a network of agricultural cooperatives throughout Italy. These cooperatives give young people employment and produce many of the iconic food staples for which Italy is known.