A judge in Sicily has sentenced 39 people to a total of 80 years in prison for diverting a Good Friday religious procession to the home of a mafia family and paying homage to an imprisoned crime boss.
At Easter 2016, people were carrying a statue of Jesus Christ through the Sicilian village of San Michele Di Ganzaria when a group stopped the funeral procession, derailing it from the agreed route and forcing it to pass in front of the house of mafia godfather Francesco La Rocca.
La Rocca was then serving a life sentence for mob-related crimes, but his wife came out to greet the well-wishers and made a sacrifice.
The Mayor and Priest of San Michele Di Ganzaria refused to allow the procession to deviate from its official route and denounced those responsible for the diversion.
A Sicilian archbishop said he hoped it would discourage others from doing anything similar in the future.
“You should never invoke God or his name, which is certainly not on the side of the Mafiosi, who are violent and ruthless men,” Archbishop of Catania Luigi Renna said in a statement.
The group was convicted of disrupting a religious event and inciting criminal offences. The eight ringleaders were sentenced to three years in prison, the others to nine months in prison ranging from six months to two years.
“This verdict will certainly make people suffer, but I hope that suffering will bear fruit,” the archbishop said.
This was by no means the first time a religious procession had stopped at the home of a mafia boss. religion has always been at the heart of organized crime in Italy. The Camorra worship Saint Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, for help, and in Palermo, Reggio Calabria and Naples it has become customary to stop religious processions in front of the bosses’ houses to pay tribute to them. Many gangsters see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group that calls on the help of saints. Religious statues are often made in homage to mafia bosses, despite efforts by authorities to stop the practice.
In 2014, Francesco Milito, bishop of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi in Calabria, banned religious processions after a statue of the Virgin Mary was used to honor a notorious crime boss.
early in his papacy, Pope Francis described these practices as “deviant spirituality” and in 2020 the Pontifical International Marian Academy to install and the department to “free Mary from the mafia and from criminal powers”.
In 2010, ‘Ndrangheta leaders, angry at church officials for barring them from the annual Easter procession in Sant’Onofrio in Calabria, retaliated by opening fire on a prior’s house as they shot by from a car .
Reuters contributed to this report