Pope pays tribute to those who sacrificed their lives against the mafia
By Lisa Zengarini
Pope Francis has addressed a letter to the Vice-Regent of the Diocese of Rome, Bishop Baldassare Reina, “joining spiritually” with participants in a special torchlight procession.
The procession was held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the devastating mafia bomb attacks against the Papal Basilica of St. John Lateran and the church of San Giorgio al Velabro on 28 July 1993.
The initiative was organized by the Diocese, along with Council authorities and the anti-mafia association Libera headed by Father Luigi Ciotti.
The 1993 mafia attacks
On the night of 28 July 1993, two car bombs exploded in Rome, within 22 minutes of each other, one at the Basilica of St. John Lateran and at the Basilica of St. Giorgio al Velabro near the Circus Maximus. The bombs injured 22 people and caused extensive structural damage to both the ancient churches in the heart of the Eternal City.
The attacks occurred only a few hours after a car bomb exploded in central Milan killing five people and injuring 12 others, and two months after a bombing by the Cosa Nostra organized crime outfit outside the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, killing five people and injuring 48 others and causing major damages to the building and a number of art works.
The explosions were part of a bombing campaign by the Sicilian mafia (Cosa Nostra) which had warned of major attacks to avenge a series of setbacks, including the arrest in January that year of its boss Salvatore "Totò" Riina after 23 years on the run.
A year earlier, Cosa Nostra had killed judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two symbols of the fight against the mafia in Italy, in an unprecedented attack against the State which marked one of the darkest pages of recent Italian history.
Duty of gratitude to those who have sacrificed their lives
In his letter, which was read out by Bishop Reina at the start the torchlight procession at 4 minutes after midnight on 28 July, Pope Francis highlighted the “duty of gratitude” owed to all those who in fulfilling their duty, “sometimes putting their lives at risk, have spent themselves for the protection of the community.”
“The sacrifice of those who believed in and defended the founding values of a democracy, those of justice and freedom, becomes a strong call to conscience so that everyone feels co-responsible in building a new civilization of love,” he said.
Opposing all forms of illegal activities and abuse
The Holy Father recalled Pope St. John Paul II “prophetic words” during his visit to Sicily only two months before the attacks, calling for a “civilization of life”, against the mafia’s culture of death . He therefore, urged people “to resolutely oppose the numerous forms of illegal activities and abuse that unfortunately still grip society today”, affecting in particular the most vulnerable.
Appeal to young people
The Pope specifically appealed to young people to actively promote a “change of mentality”, and to be “a glimmer of light in the midst of darkness, a witness to freedom, justice and righteousness”. He further invited them to be close to their peers, especially in the suburban peripheries, “with tenderness and compassion”.
Wrapping up his letter, Pope Francis entrusted all participants in the procession to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary Salus Populi Romani, Protectress of the Roman People, and of the Patron Saints of Rome, Peter and Paul.