The Pontifical International Marian Academy has set up a department to tackle the mafia’s usage of the Virgin Mary. The department plans to teach children and families the true theology of Mary, and aims to “restore the purity of the image of Jesus and Mary which comes from the Gospels”. Francis has previously been outspoken against crime families using Christian imagery.
In the letter to the academy’s president, Francis offered his support to the “important initiative”.
The Pope praised it for opening a department on mafia and criminal phenomena.
He wrote he hoped it would help “free the figure of the Madonna from the influence of criminal organisations”
Francis also claimed Mary needed to be removed from “superstructures, powers or conditioning that does not correspond to the Gospel criteria of justice, liberty, honesty, and solidarity”.
The mafia has used the Virgin Mary as a symbol for servitude for centuries, and make statues of her bend in front of mob bosses during processions.
Father Stefan Cecchin, president of the academy, said the words of the Bible had been twisted because the mother of Jesus Christ was forced to bend to the will of God.
Speaking to the Catholic News Agency, he said “this is exactly what the figure of Mary has become” in the mafia framework, and called the misuse of devotion “superstition”.
He added: “The figure of a human being who must be submissive, therefore a slave, accepting the will of God, the will of the bosses, the will of the mafia leaders.”
In 2018, he denounced the mafias “blasphemous existence” while in Sicily.
Francis was visiting to honour Blessed Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi, a priest murdered by the mob in 1993.
Targeting the mafia, he said: “A person who is a Mafioso does not live as a Christian because with his life he blasphemes against the name of God.
“Change, brothers and sisters! Stop thinking about yourselves and your money… convert yourselves to the real God.”
Italy has three main branches of the mafia, being the Camorra crime syndicate in Naples, the ‘Ndrangheta in the Calabria region, and the Sicilian Mafia.
The academy is organising a conference this month to set guidelines for the anti-mafia department, including theologians and lawyers.
Father Cecchin said of the department: “What we reiterate is that we must work together, but each with their own identity, without confusing the State, the Church, and other organisations.
“We must work for the common good.”