"Minchia, che caldo! Mah..." Welcome to another religious/political/dairy product issue of "Only In Italy!"
Remember, kind readers. Keep your feet in the mud and keep reaching for the olives.
Enjoy the issue, keep writing and Grazie!
Rome - August 9, 2010 - A group of men stand in circle outside a church in a secluded patch of Italy, a statue of the Virgin Mary in the background. In the middle, an 80-year-old mafia boss speaks in heavily accented Italian, having been elected leader of "The Crime," the local mob syndicate.
"The Crime doesn't belong to anyone. It belongs to everyone," he said finally.
A passage from the notepad of the scriptwriter on "The Godfather"? Hardly. The unscripted scene comes from footage secretly filmed by Italian police during a months-long investigation which led to the arrest, on July 13, 2009, of around 300 members of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
Among those arrested was Domenico Oppedisano, the newly elected "capocrimine" or "head of crime" the leader of the group that oversees the syndicate's burgeoning operations in the Calabria region. Enriched by trans-Atlantic cocaine trafficking of the past few decades, the police say the 'Ndrangheta has taken the place of the Sicilian Mafia as the most powerful crime organization in the country.
The July 13 raid was hailed as a milestone by the Italian government and prosecutors. But it has proved more than a little embarrassing for Monsignor Giuseppe Morosini, bishop of the Locri diocese in Calabria: The setting chosen by the mobsters for their meeting was the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi, a revered Marian shrine perched high in the impassable Aspromonte mountains.
In fact, it showed that notwithstanding vocal condemnations in recent years by church authorities, Italy's organized crime still has close ties to Catholic rites and traditions. This, said sociologist Alessandra Dino, who has written a book on the links between the church and the Mafia, is no surprise. The connection stretches back to the very origins of organized crime.
"Mobsters don't just 'use' religion, in order to increase consensus and complicity for their actions," said Dino, who bases her work on extensive interviews with former Mafiosi and on their depositions at trials. By "adopting pseudo-religious rituals or sitting in the first rows of pews at masses and processions," mobsters, "set themselves as models" for other people.
More importantly, she said, in doing so they "create a mechanism to grant themselves impunity from guilt" for their crimes. Mobsters, said Dino, believe to be "moved by higher motives. They say to themselves: 'We did what we did because we were acting in the name of God's justice, which is higher than the state's.'"
The perception is false, said Morosini, who reacted swiftly after the release of the footage, penning an open letter to the 'Ndrangheta mobsters.
"We had always thought that these meetings at holy shrines were folklore, but now we have had to re-think," he wrote, adding that the church "feels deeply sorry" for the mobsters for having transformed Polsi "from a place of faith into a place of lawlessness."
People's faith in the shrine, he wrote, "must be respected not laughed upon and humiliated."
In an interview to a local news agency, he said mobsters "did not live by Christian values, even if they showed off their devotion with an "obsequious behavior towards the church, such as kissing sacred images."
He added: "Faith has nothing to do with their activities and, as bishop, I invited them to convert and repent."
Though Morosini's letter has been widely praised, social activists and anti-Mafia campaigners have questioned why it came only after the release of the meeting footage.
The church, says Vincenzo Linarello, a social activist in the area who funded co-op businesses that have often been target of mafia attacks for their refusal to pay protection money, has been "silent" on the mobsters' exhibited religiosity for too long. The 'Ndrangheta's link to the Polsi shrine has been widely reported in studies on the Calabria mob for decades. In 1969, a police raid at the sanctuary led to the capture of 70 crime bosses, while many others escaped.
Dino said the church should have acted earlier. "It knows where many of the generous donations for the shrine came from. It should have rejected them."
Moreover, the bishop's letter "downplays the link" between Polsi and the 'Ndrangheta, she said, "and blames it only on the mobsters, forgetting that it was the church that let it fester."
Morosini, bishop of Locri since 2008, said the church was working to change the mindset of the local population, though the task wasn't easy.
"My priests are 'in the trenches," he said, because changing the centuries-old traditions and rites that mobsters use to assert their power such as processions stopping in front of the homes of local kingpins as a sign of reverence was something deeply resented by the population. "We are now trying to 'purify' these rites, but it isn't easy."
For a start, the rector of the sanctuary, Nino Strangio, told the news agency that every pilgrim who now visits Polsi receives a copy of the bishop's letter. This will happen also on Sept. 1, the Marian holiday when 'Ndrangheta summits are traditionally held.
"We heard about these things but until now it was just hearsay. I thank the police for putting the spotlight on these meetings," he said. "Now, we must be courageous and rebel against this phenomenon that defaces the beauty and holiness of this place."
Calls from within the Catholic Church for it to take a hard line stance on the issue of organized crime in Italy’s mafia-consumed south. Hmmm...is anyone answering those phone calls? Hello? Si? Pronto?
We beg to differ. After all, the Church is very well aware that:
- Catholic themes do often feature in films about Italy’s Mafias.
- members of the Mafia follow asinine rituals including the burning prayer cards of saints while promising: "As this card burns so will I if I betray secrets". But the same pinheads will carry prayer cards in the belief they will offer divine protection from police or enemies. A prayer card of 'San Gennaro' is not known to provide bullet proof protection but we strongly invite them to give it a try.
- in a longstanding and pathetic tradition, young members of local Calabrian Mafias carry statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and various saints during the 'Affruntata' procession. Taking part in the 'Affruntata' is reportedly considered a rite of passage for many young people aligned with the Mafia. Unfortunately, there haven't been any occurrences of these statue carriers being struck by a holy hernia.
What about writer, Roberto Saviano, and his blockbuster book, Gomorrah? Saviano, who, you might remember, wrote a book which put the Naples’ Camorra Mafia organization, in a bad light. In his book there is a story of an anti-mafia Catholic priest. This brave priest stood up against the Camorra in his parish and spoke out openly against their activities.
For his pains, this priest, Don Peppino Diana was executed by the Camorra.
For reasons unknown, the Vatican seemed to have left Don Peppino to his own fate. Support from that Vatican appeared to be virtually nothing nor did it try to stand up for Saviano when attempts were made to blacken his name in the press.
And while the Catholic Church tries to encourage young people to join its ranks, it does not appear to openly discourage the same young people from becoming part of the Mafia. We could be wrong but it's almost as if Mafia membership and attending the Church goes hand in hand.
Siena - August 5, 2010 - Italy's tourism minister has called for an end to the nation's popular Palio horse races, likening them to Spain's bullfights for exploiting animals.
Michela Brambilla's attack on the centuries-old tradition was immediately criticized by other politicians, including the mayor of Siena.
The graceful Tuscan town draws tens of thousands of visitors each summer with the races running at breakneck speed in the main square. Horses have been injured and put down after slipping on the dirt-covered cobblestone track.
Ms Brambilla says Italy could take a lesson from Spain, where the Catalonia region last month banned bullfights and their blood-soaked pageantry. Animal rights activists in Italy praised Ms Brambilla, but the Palio is a big tourist draw.
We would like all our readers to know that we too strongly feel that Siena's horse races should come to a stop, not only for the benefit of the exploited horses, but for the rules and tradition that were obviously based on medieval lunacy.
The Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice each year (July 2 and August 16) in Siena in which 10 horses and riders, bareback and dressed in comical mismatched colors, represent 10 of the 17 "Contrade", or city wards.
Now you may think, city wards? How lovely! Oh dear, I can just imagine the long history and tradition of these wonderful Italian symbols...
Well, dear, some of these Contrade are the following: the caterpillar, snail, goose and crested porcupine. If you're from the north-westernmost edge of Siena, congratulations, you come from a long line of crested porcupines. This will make an interesting discussion at your next cocktail party.
Just before the pageant, instead of going on patrol and acting as civil servants, a squad of police officers on horseback, wielding swords wildly, demonstrate a mounted charge around the track.
At 7.30 PM the detonation of an explosive charge echoes across the piazza, signaling to the thousands of onlookers (and the thieves taking advantage of the lack of police) that the race is about to begin.
The race itself runs for three laps of the Piazza del Campo. The jockeys ride the horses bareback from the starting line, an area between two ropes. Nine horses, in an order only decided by a lottery immediately before the race starts, enter the space. The tenth, the "rincorsa", waits outside. When the rincorsa finally enters the space between the ropes the starter instantly drops the "canapo" (front rope).
This annoying process (the Mossa) can take quite a bit of time, as so called "deals" will have been made between various contrade and jockeys that affect when the rincorsa moves...he may be waiting for a particular other horse to be well or badly placed for example.
On the dangerous, steeply-canted track, the riders are allowed to use their whips not only for their own horse, but also for disturbing other horses and riders. The Palio in fact is won by the horse who represents his contrada, and not by the jockeys. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line with its head ornaments intact...and a horse can win without its rider.
By the way, the loser in the race is considered to be the contrada whose horse comes in second...not last.
Yes...lunacy. Shut it down.
Rome - August 6, 2010 - One of Italy's most wanted mafia godfathers has been arrested after seven years on the run after police traced him to his wife's mobile registered in the name of Winnie the Pooh.
Vittorio Pirozzi, 58, who was on Italy's 100 most wanted mafia gangsters list, had been a fugitive from the Italian police since 2003, during which time he allegedly ran drug-trafficking operations in Spain and Belgium.
He remained in close contact with his wife but changed the SIM card in his mobile phone every two weeks in order to avoid his location being traced. His wife, however, was not so prudent, calling and texting her husband on a mobile phone which was registered under the alias of AA Milne's character.
Police managed to crack a code that Pirozzi used when he called his wife's mobile at a fixed time on the same day every two weeks. After intercepting calls, they followed his wife to Brussels this week and discovered that Pirozzi, a senior member of the Naples-based Camorra mafia, was living in a modest apartment in the center of the city.
Police and Interpol agents raided the flat on Wednesday night, apprehending Pirozzi on an international arrest warrant issued by Italian judges. Police said he was not armed and did not put up any resistance. He appeared in a court in Brussels and will be extradited back to Italy, where he will serve a 15 year prison sentence after being convicted in absentia on drug trafficking charges in 2003.
The Naples police chief who led the operation, Vittorio Pisani, said Pirozzi had divided his time on the run between Brussels and Malaga, in Spain.
"Both are international crossroads for the stockpiling and importing of drugs to Europe," he said.
Italy's interior minister, Roberto Maroni, welcomed the arrest. "This is another great state success against the Camorra and adds to a long list of previous arrests."
WARNING for people who are proud of Naples: Another commentary on this Godforsaken city. "Cacchio", reader discretion advised.
- Pooh and his friends live in the Hundred Acre Wood where they enjoy friendship, warmth and compassion as well as adventure!
- Winnie the Pooh is also called Pooh, or Pooh Bear, but never, ever, just Winnie.
- Pooh endlessly craves 'smackerel’ of 'hunny’ to soothe that insatiable 'rumbly in his tumbly.’
- Pooh's best friend is Piglet. They both love each other.