During his visit to a Marian shrine in southern Italy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin—the Vatican Secretary of State—gave a warning that Marian devotion must be protected from mafia exploitation.
Cardinal Parolin was in Italy to celebrate Mass for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Shrine of Torre Ruggiero in Calabria. The event coincides with the Italian Marian devotion to Madonna delle Grazie or Our Lady of Grace. (Read: Prayer for the Feast of the Birth of Mary)
Pollution of Faith
Calabria is a region in Italy that is home to the ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate—one of the most powerful mafia groups in Italy.
In 2014, Italian media reported that during a procession of the Madonna delle Grazie in Calabria, the image of the Blessed Virgin was stopped in front of the house of a mafia boss who was under house arrest as a sign of respect. This event was one example of how Marian devotion can become entangled with the mafia culture in southern Italy. (Read: How Does the World Celebrate the Feast of Mama Mary’s Nativity?)
“Popular piety is a great treasure that the Church cannot do without precisely because it supports faith in all situations,” Cardinal Parolin says. “But it also needs to be purified from some elements that are not appropriate, all the more so if they are underworld or criminal elements.”
During the Mass, Calabria’s Archbishop Vincenzo Bertolone told the cardinal that “old and new mafia forces try to pollute popular faith with malignant weeds, passing off a pseudo-religion as devout.”
Archbishop Bertolone also said that the cardinal’s visit presented an opportunity to highlight the region’s malicious exploitation of the image of the Blessed Virgin. “From this sanctuary, your presence recalls the duty to free the devotion of the Madonna from any risk of exploitation,” Archbishop Bertolone told Cardinal Parolin.
To this, Cardinal Parolin says that pastors need to dedicate themselves with great attention and be “careful not to throw away the baby with the bathwater.”
Pontifical International Marian Academy
Through these statements, Cardinal Parolin echoed Pope Francis on his approval of the Pontifical International Marian Academy (PAMI)—an initiative to counter the mafia’s use of the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary to promote submission to the will of the mafia boss. (Read: Do Catholics Really Worship Mama Mary?)
A working group will bring together about 40 Church and civil leaders in October to “restore the purity of the image of Jesus and Mary which comes from the Gospels.” PAMI will also use the formation to teach children and families a true theology of Mary.