Pope Francis, the cool pope who still has some uncool policies, is in Cassano all'Ionio this Saturday to speak on the endemic problem of mafia violence in Italy. After the pope announced his reform agenda last year, an anti-mob prosecutor said Pope Francis might be under threat of attack by the mafia.
The town of Cassano all'Iono was in the news this January after a three-year-old child was gunned down in a shootout that involved the 'Ndrangheta, the mafia organization that dominates Calabria on the southern tip of Italy.
The pope landed by helicopter Saturday morning and has since met with hospice patients and visited the father of the slain toddler in jail, all amid fears that his life might be in danger. The 'Ndrangheta has historically had connections with the Catholic church, a relationship Pope Francis is eager to sever.
In April, bishops in Calabria raised eyebrows by issuing a statement calling the mob a "cancer." Francis is expected to further probe that sentiment as he seeks to sever ties between the church and crime gangs. Previous popes have denounced the mob's influence in Italy but none have been successful in curbing it.
Several people in Pope Francis's circle have spoken out against today's trip, claiming that the visit could lead to violence. Nicola Gratteri, an anti-mafia prosecutor, said she was "very nervous" for the pope.
"For many years, the mob has laundered money and made investments with the complicity of the church," Gratteri said, noting those activities have become more difficult due to recent reforms. The Vatican has downplayed the threats.
Somewhat symbolically, while Pope Francis was visiting hospice patients at a local hospital, he asked a doctor to remove a splinter from one of his fingers that had been bothering him.