In his ongoing campaign to reach out to the lost and marginalized, Pope Francis spent all day Saturday exploring the Naples underbelly, seeking out the poorer areas of town, a prison, and sections dominated by the Neapolitan mafia, or “Camorra.”
In a ten-hour marathon, the Pope delivered seven homilies and speeches, the equivalent of a visit to a foreign country. The number of participants at all seven events is estimated to have topped 800 thousand people.
After touching down from Rome at the Marian shrine of Pompeii, the Pope transferred immediately to the district of Scampia, a territory on the outskirts of Naples with high unemployment and a strong mafia presence. There he delivered a fiery speech, urging his listeners to “never let evil have the last word.”
As expected, the Pope once again denounced the mafia, saying that a corrupt society is everybody’s problem.
“None of us can say, ‘No, I won’t be corrupted,’” he said. “It is a temptation, a slippery slope. From easy business deals, to delinquency, to the exploitation of people.”
“How much corruption in the world!” Francis exclaimed. “It’s an ugly word, if we think about what it means. Because something corrupt is dirty. If we find a dead animal that is rotting, that is ‘corrupt’; it’s a dirty thing. It’s dirty and it stinks,” he said.
“Corruption stinks, and a corrupt society stinks. A Christian who lets corruption inside him is not Christian. That person stinks,” he said.
The Pope said that a key remedy is to educate the young, like Saint John Bosco who used the motto “good Christians and honest citizens.”
The path of hope for young people, Francis said, “is first and foremost a true education,” which prepares youth to move forward and create a better future for themselves.
This was the Pope’s second major attack on the Italian mafias after his forceful condemnation of the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, which included an explicit excommunication, during his visit to Cassano allo Ionio on June 21, 2014.
Returning to the theme of overcoming corruption during his 11:00 a.m. mass, the Pope pleaded with those present to have hope and work together for a better future.
“Dear Neapolitans,” he said, “don’t give in to the temptation of easy money or dishonest income. React firmly against the organizations that exploit and corrupt the young, the poor and the weak, with the cynical dealing of drugs and other crimes.”
“Don’t let corruption and delinquency disfigure the face of this beautiful city!” he said.
To all criminals and their accomplices, the Church repeats: be converted to love and justice! Let yourselves be found by God’s mercy! With God’s grace, which pardons all, it is possible to return to an honest life. The tears of the mothers of Naples ask you this, mixed with those of Mary.
The Pope also visited the largest prison in the city of Poggioreale, which has more than 1,200 inmates. Inmates from other jails were brought in as well, including from the juvenile detention center of Nisida, for a total of nearly three thousand people.
Francis had lunch with 120 prisoners, 13 of whom were transsexuals, according to reports.
After lunch, the Pope addressed the group, answering questions and offering his own reflections, including his reminder to the inmates that “the first saint was a thief,” referring to the criminal crucified next to Jesus, to whom Jesus promised, “This day you will be with Me in paradise.”
He also reminded the prisoners of the words of Saint Paul: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God! Not even the bars of a prison cell. The only thing that can separate us from Him is sin, but if we acknowledge it and confess it with sincere repentance, that sin itself becomes a place of encounter with Him, because He is mercy,” he said.
“In life we mustn’t be frightened by our falls,” he said. “What is important is to know how to get back up. God forgets and erases our sins forever,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.