Pope urges fight against organized crime as mafia battles pandemic

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday urged people to fight organized crime groups such as the Mafia around the world, warning that criminals are using the COVID-19 pandemic to get even richer.

In December, the Paris-based Interpol police coordination issued a global alert warning that organized crime networks were targeting COVID-19 vaccines. In March, South African police seized hundreds of fake vaccines and arrested four suspects.

“The mafias are present in various parts of the world and, taking advantage of the pandemic, they are getting richer thanks to corruption,” François said during his speech on Sunday noon on the day Italy remembers the victims of organized crime .

Italian police say crime clans are using the pandemic to buy favors from poor families facing financial ruin, offering loans and food. The loan sharks who demand exorbitant interest rates are bailing out businesses hit by the pandemic, police say.

“These structures of sin, these mafia structures, are against the gospel and confuse idolatry with faith,” added the Pope.

In Italy, many members of organized crime consider themselves to be part of a sectarian-type religious group, invoking the help of saints and using religious figurines or statues in initiation rites.

The southern town of Oppido Mamertina made headlines in 2014 when locals carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary diverted the route of a procession to pause at a mafia boss and tilted the statue slightly as to kneel down in respect.

“Today, let us remember all the victims and renew our commitment against the mafias,” said Francis.

In recent years, Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta has overtaken Cosa Nostra in Sicily as Italy’s most feared and lucrative criminal group, making most of its money from drug trafficking. It has spread all over the world.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Pravin Char

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