In a meeting with pilgrims from the Italian region of Calabria, Pope Francis slammed members of Italian organized crime, telling them they must choose between Jesus and a life of evil. “Jesus did not take devils to lunch,” he said. “He cast them out.”
The Pope received a large group of pilgrims on Saturday from the southern Italian Diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, where he visited last June. During that visit, he had extremely harsh words for the members of the local Mafia, telling his hearers that the ‘ndrangheta—the Calabrese Mafia—is the “adoration of evil.”
Referring back to that visit, Pope Francis once again zeroed in on the Mafia Saturday, urging them to convert and insisting that no one can claim to be a Christian while participating in organized crime.
“Whoever loves Jesus,” the Pope said, “whoever hears Him and receives His Word and sincerely responds to the Lord’s call cannot in any way give himself over to the works of evil. Either Jesus or evil!”
Though a great advocate of dialogue, Francis recognized that dialogue has its limits. “Jesus did not take devils to lunch,” he said. “He cast them out, because they were evil. Either Jesus or evil!”
The Pope repeatedly stated that a choice has to be made between good and evil, asserting that one cannot have it both ways. He seemed especially interested in underscoring the absolute incompatibility of Christian faith and criminal activity.
“You cannot call yourselves Christians and violate the dignity of persons,” he said. “Those who belong to the Christian community cannot plan and carry out acts of violence against others.”
Francis also said that external gestures of religiosity that are not accompanied by real and public conversion “are not enough to be considered in communion with Christ and his Church.” Likewise, these external gestures “are not enough to qualify people as believers” who “have chosen illegality as their lifestyle.”
The Pope also addressed Mafia members directly, appealing to them to convert before it’s too late.
“To those who have chosen the path of evil and are affiliated to criminal organizations,” he said, “I renew my urgent invitation to conversion. Open your hearts to the Lord! Open your hearts to the Lord!”
To be real, however, this conversion must be public, the Pope said.
“The Lord is waiting for you, and the Church welcomes you,” he said, on condition that your change of life is evident and public, “just as your choice to serve evil was public.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.