Pope Francis travels to the Italian mob heartland

By Amanda Stewart,

Despite worries about his health, Pope Francis traveled to Italian mob territory on Saturday to pray in a town where a 3-year-old was gunned down in January.

Pope Francis has spent quite a bit of time focusing on international issues and meeting with world leaders. According to USA Today, Francis once again turned his focus back on problems in Ital.

The Ndrangheta is a strong organized crime organization due to its reliance on family ties, which makes it harder for police to infiltrate. Its operations go as far as Australia and Germany. Their annual revenue is estimated around $75 billion.

The pope traveled via helicopter to Cassano all-Ionio. In January the headlines in the papers in this area were all about how 3-year-old Nicola “Coco” Campolongo and her grandfather were hit by stray bullets during a shootout. The Ndrangheta is a commanding force in Calabria and are believed to have been involved in the shootout.

The discovery of the body of the young girl sent shockwaves through Italy, according to Agence France-Presse.

"I continuously pray for him. Do not despair," Francis told Coco's grandparents and uncle during a visit to the Castrovillari prison, where the toddler's father is serving time for drug-related crimes.

The Vatican says that Francis went there to address two major problems in the country: organized crime and unemployment among young people.

Calabria is allegedly a source of death threats against the pope. The Ndrangheta have seen his reform as a possible threat and Francis could become a target for the group. For those in Rome, there was a bit of worry in their hearts as the pope headed south.

Pope Francis hopes to further his efforts in making sure that these crime gangs have no affiliation with the Church. Prior to Francis’ reign popes have done little else but to denounce the mobs.

"I think it's very positive that the pope is getting involved in issues as complex as these," said Ornella Sgroi, a Sicilian journalist who writes about organized crime. "But whether he can do anything about it we'll have to wait and see."

image courtesy of INFphoto.com

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