Pope Francis is calling for authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary to be freed from “superstructures, powers or conditioning that does not correspond to the Gospel criteria of justice, liberty, honesty, and solidarity.”
The exhortation comes in a letter, made public on Thursday, which is addressed to the President of the Pontifical International Marian Academy, Father Stefano Cecchin.
In his letter, the Pope takes note of an ad hoc Department created within the Academy to study criminal and mafia phenomena, precisely in order “to free the figure of Our Lady from the influence of criminal organizations.”
Vatican News reports that Father Stefano Cecchin, said “We must rediscover the religious and cultural heritage that we have all over the world, but especially in Italy – a heritage that we must re-evaluate and safeguard in its original piety.”
In Italy and elsewhere, Marian and other Catholic devotions are often maliciously incorporated into mafia rituals, in a distortion of authentic spirituality, as, for example, when statues or images of the Blessed Virgin are made to bow before the houses of mob bosses during processions. “We want to eradicate [this distorted use of devotion] through the formation of people, of families,” says Fr Cecchin.
He says that the misuse of devotion “is not religion! It’s superstition.” Mafia leaders, he says, are trying “to teach the people that God is with them. So they also want to use people’s religious feelings not to lead them to be free, but slaves.”