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Pope seeks to prevent Mafia from using Virgin Mary imagery

Pope seeks to prevent Mafia from using Virgin Mary imagery
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Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope Francis names first Black US cardinal, Wilton Gregory The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by the Walton Family Foundation — Pope Francis expresses support for same-sex unions MORE voiced support for a new Vatican think tank that aims to prevent the Mafia and other organized crime groups from using the image of the Virgin Mary, the Vatican announced at a conference on Friday. 

The Associated Press reported that the Vatican’s Pontifical Marian Academy officially launched the think tank Friday at a conference titled “Liberating Mary from the Mafia.” The conference's name is a reference to the historic connection between the Catholic Church and the Italian mob group, as well as mobsters’ popular displays of devotion to Mary. 

The conference, held at Rome’s Museum of Civilizations, started with the reading of a statement from the pope that said the image of the Virgin Mary “must be preserved in its original purity.”

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Francis added in the statement that any public displays of devotion to the Madonna must “conform to the message of the Gospel and the teachings of the church,” and that people participating in these devotions must be authentic Christians who look out for others, especially the poor.

The pope first expressed his support for the think tank in a letter last month to the Pontifical Marian Academy President, Father Stefano Cecchin.

Francis wrote that the new department, which does not yet appear to have an official name, will help Catholics “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 2018, Francis said Mafia members could not "believe in God and be Mafiosi" during an address at Palermo’s Piazza Europa. In the address, the pope paid homage to Father Giuseppe Puglisi, who was shot and killed by the mafia in Sicily in 1993.

According to AP, the Catholic Church in Italy has had historic ties with the Mafia, adding that while some Catholic priests have vocally opposed the organization, others have faced criticism for their celebration of funerals, weddings and other sacraments for mafia dons and acceptance of their donations. 

St. John Paul II in 1993 called on Mafia members to repent and change their ways during a visit to Sicily after mob killings of two anti-Mafia prosecutors.