By Sarah Mac Donald - 22 March, 2014
The Pontiff made his appeal surrounded by 700 family members of those innocent victims who have been killed by the mafia.
Upon his arrival at the Roman church of San Gregorio VII, the Pope was embraced Fr Luigi Ciotti, the president of the Italian network Libera, which commemorates the innocent victims of organised crime and who organised Friday’s prayer vigil.
The Pope held Fr Ciotti’s hand as he entered the church. “We were expecting to meet a father but we found a brother instead, brother Francis,” Fr Ciotti said.
On 21 March every year since 1996, the Italian Libera Associations holds a commemoration ceremony in which it names the innocent victims of organised crime through a Day of Memory and Commitment.
The main event takes part in a different Italian town each year. This year, the main event takes place on 22 March in Latina, in Italy’s Lazio region.
On Friday, 700 relatives of mafia victims arrived from all over Italy to join Pope Francis in a prayer vigil.
Wearing the stole worn by Fr Giuseppe Diana, one of the martyrs in the fight against the Camorra mafia clan, the Pope gave his blessing.
He prayed as a list of 842 names of innocent mafia victims were read out during the vigil with victim’s family members in the Roman church of San Gregorio VII.
The last few names, including those of some children that were killed only just recently, were read out by the district attorney of Turin, Giancarlo Caselli, who concluded by promising in the name of everyone, his commitment to obtain truth and justice.
He lauded them for their witness, their courage to share their suffering with others and their hope that corruption will be overcome.
He had strong words for the members of the mafia, beginning: “I feel that I cannot conclude without saying a word to… the protagonists who are absent today — the men and women Mafiosi.”
“Please change your lives, convert yourselves, stop perpetrating evil,” he said to applause.
“We pray for you. I ask this on my knees. It is for your good,” he entreated. “This life that you live now will not give us pleasure; it will not give us joy. It will not give you happiness.
The power and money that you have now from many dirty dealings, from many mafia crimes – blood money, power gained with blood – you cannot bring them with you to the next life,” the Pope continued.
“Convert yourselves. You still have time so as not to end up in hell. And that is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path,” he said. “You have a father and a mother. Think of them. Cry a little and convert yourselves.”
He concluded his remarks, leading the assembly in a Hail Mary, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
The prayer vigil came one day ahead of the 19th Day of Memory and Commitment in remembrance of the innocent victims of organised crime.
On Saturday, hundreds are expected to march in Latina, a city south of Rome, and then participate in workshop on how civil society can better organize to bring an end to corruption.