During an open air mass before around 200,000 people Sunday, Pope Francis called for Christians to be environmentally conscious and to protect nature from criminal abuse and illegal dumping. While visiting the southern Italian town of Caserta, near Naples, Francis expressed his displeasure the pervasive grip of the Camorra mafia in the region and their long history of dumping illegal toxic waste, reports Catholic news source The Pilot. The Pontiff explained to the crowd how being a Christian means putting God first in your life, and to do this they must have the courage to say no to evil, violence and the exploitation of the land.
In Italy, Caserta is known as the land of fires, due to the illegal fires lit to burn garbage. Included in this illegal burning is toxic waste. Acres of formerly fertile farmland are now too polluted to use, there is no environmental protection. Residents are also reporting higher cancer rates.
Before the mass the Pope was flown over the area by helicopter, to get a view of the land. Pope Francis reminded the residents that if they call themselves Christian, they need to demonstrate this by loving one another. Part of doing that is to make a commitment to safeguard their life and their health and this can be done through respecting the environment and nature.
Originally the Pope planned to make a private visit to a Pentecostal pastor friend of his. The local Bishop informed Vatican officials that the date chosen for Francis’ visit to Caserta, July 26, happened to be the feast day of the town’s patroness, St. Anne. Pope Francis quickly postponed the visit with his friend until July 28 and planned the Mass.
Mass was celebrated outside an 18th-century royal palace, the Reggia di Caserta. A statue of St. Anne holding the hand of her child, Mary, was placed on the altar. Francis said, “Today is the feast of St. Anne. I like calling her the grandma of Jesus and today is a good day to celebrate grandmothers.”
He continued, “When I was using the incense, I noticed something very beautiful, the statue of St. Anne does not have a crown, but her daughter Mary is crowned. St. Anne is the woman who prepared her daughter to become queen, to become queen of heaven and earth. This woman did a great job.”
Saint Anne is the mother of Mary, who is the mother of Jesus. She was married to Joachim. Saint Anne’s life is told in the Gospel of James.
The Pope encouraged Catholics in Caserta to continue their celebrations of St. Anne. Bishops in southern Italy have been struggling to ensure feasts preserve their religious significance. Francis reminded Catholics in Caserta to safeguard their celebrations of St. Anne from mafia manipulations, to keep them free of any outside influence and to stand strong by demonstrating they are an expression of the pure faith of a people who see themselves as the family of God and strengthen their bonds of brotherhood and solidarity. He added, “We all know what the name of these forms of corruption and illegality are.”
During his visit to Calabria last month, the Pope said those who followed the mafia’s path of evil would be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Caserta, the location of the Pope’s most recent visit lies just outside an area which is called the triangle of death. Not only is this region considered one of the strongholds of the Camorra, it is also where the mortality rates are highest. When a person in excommunicated in the Catholic Church they are cut off from communion and excluded from all the sacraments of the Church through an ecclesiastical sentence.