To the disappointment of anti-Mob campaigners who had hoped that he would deliver a rousing call for unity against organised crime, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday gave a homily in Sicily that urged people there to be hopeful for a better future but stopped short of using the word Mafia.
In front of 30,000 people gathered in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, Cosa Nostra's own backyard, he lamented the "precarious conditions in which many of the people live, caused by the lack of work, uncertainty about the future, physical and moral suffering ... and also caused by organised crime".
He also referred to Reverend Pino Puglisi, the outspoken priest who was gunned down in 1993 for taking a stand against the Mafia in some of Palermo's most mobster-infested neighbourhoods.
But most of the speech was allusive rather than hard-hitting. "One must have shame of evil," he said, "which offends God and man, one must have shame of evil which harms the civil and religious community with actions that do not like being brought into light."
If the sermon was supposed to help the Vatican reclaim the moral high ground after a year in which it has laboured under accusations involving paedophilia and money laundering, it wasn't entirely successful.
"I think the people of Palermo will be disappointed," said Rita Borsellino, whose brother Paolo, a leading anti-Mafia magistrate, was killed by a Mafia car bomb in Palermo in 1992.
"I was disappointed in the lack of force in what he said," she told Reuters. "I think it is indulging the Mafia too much to just call it organised crime and not call it by name."
The homily was in stark contrast to a speech given by his charismatic predecessor John Paul II who flew to the island in 1993 soon after Cosa Nostra began blowing up judges during its brief war on the state. Then, with improvised remarks, John Paul castigated the Mafia, warning its members in a trembling voice that they faced the wrath of God.
Benedict's restraint yesterday was also in contrast to the gusto with which he has made outspoken attacks on homosexuality, Islam and even condom use as an anti-HIV measure in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Pontiff later attended a rally for young people in the centre of Palermo. For the most part it has been young Palermitani who have driven the campaign to encourage shopkeepers and other business owners to refuse to pay the Mob "protection money", known locally as the pizzo, and instead report mobsters to the police.
The Addiopizzo (goodbye pizzo) movement in Palermo now counts hundreds of members among shops and businesses. And momentum for a similar campaign is building in the island's second city, Catania.
Cosa Nostra itself has suffered other setbacks in the last decade and a half. The revulsion and subsequent backlash resulting from its 1990s murder spree allowed rival crime groups in Naples and Calabria to gain ground. And more recently it has been wounded by a succession of key arrests. But few doubt that Cosa Nostra will adapt and survive, or that the Mafia is a problem confined to the Italian south.
Today's anti-Mafia magistrates say the Mob is increasingly involving itself in respectable business and the money markets, with the help of its numerous associates in politics and finance in Rome and Milan.Reuse content