TO the disappointment of anti-Mob campaigners who had hoped that he would deliver a rousing call for unity against organised crime, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday gave a homily in Sicily that urged people there to be hopeful for a better future -- but stopped short of using the word Mafia in his sermon.
In front of 30,000 people gathered in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, Cosa Nostra's own backyard, he lamented the "precarious conditions in which many of the people live, caused by the lack of work, uncertainty about the future, physical and moral suffering . . . and also caused by organised crime".
He also referred to Reverend Pino Puglisi, the outspoken priest who was gunned down in 1993 for taking a stand against the Mafia in some of Palermo's mobster-infested neighbourhoods.
But most of the speech was allusive rather than hard-hitting. "One must have shame of evil," he said, "which offends God and man.
"One must have shame of evil which harms the civil and religious community with actions that do not like being brought into light," he added. If the sermon was supposed to help the Vatican reclaim the moral high ground after a year in which it has laboured under accusations involving paedophilia and money laundering, it wasn't entirely successful.
"I think the people of Palermo will be disappointed," said Rita Borsellino, whose brother Paolo, a leading anti-Mafia magistrate, was killed by a Mafia car bomb in Palermo in 1992. "I was disappointed with the lack of force in what he said. I think it is indulging the Mafia too much to just call it organised crime and not call it by name."
The homily was in stark contrast to a speech given by his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II, who flew to the island in 1993 soon after Cosa Nostra began blowing up judges during its brief war on the state.
Then, with improvised remarks, John Paul II castigated the Mafia, warning its members in a trembling voice that they faced the wrath of God.
Benedict's restraint yesterday was also in contrast to the gusto with which he has made outspoken attacks on homosexuality, Islam and even condom use. (© Independent News Service)