June 3, 2018 / 5:43 PM / 21 days ago

Free yourselves from mafia, pope says in crime-infested suburb

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Sunday visited a once-tranquil seaside community outside Rome that has become a power center of mafia violence and political corruption and urged residents to break away from the “moorings of fear”.

For decades popes have held the traditional Corpus Christi feast Mass and subsequent procession in the center of Rome, walking between two magnificent basilicas.

This year Francis chose to move the event to two working-class parishes in Ostia, a district about 30 km (17 miles) from the center with a population of about 230,000 people, to show solidarity with anguished and frightened residents.

In his homily during a Mass from the steps of the first church, he used the word “omerta”, which refers to the code of silence organized crime groups impose on their members and the fear they use as a tool to keep others from talking to police.

“Jesus wants the walls of indifference and ‘omerta’ to be breached, iron bars of oppression and arrogance torn asunder, and paths cleared for justice, civility and legality,” he said.

Using nautical language and speaking near the seaport of ancient Rome, he encouraged residents to break free from “the moorings of fear and depression,” telling them “you have experienced painful situations”.

Last January, police arrested dozens of alleged members of the Spada family, the clan authorities say runs extortion rackets controlling lucrative beach concessions, restaurants and gaming arcades as well as drug trafficking.

Ostia was put under control of a government commissioner for more than two years because of alleged mafia infiltration of the local administration as part of a wide-ranging investigation dubbed “Mafia Capital” in 2014.

The spotlight returned to Ostia in last year when Roberto Spada, gym owner and brother of a convicted mobster, was filmed headbutting an investigative journalist ahead of the March 4 national elections.

Roberto Spada and his older brother Carmine were among those arrested in January.

Police said at the time the brothers had ordered the murder in 2011 of Francesco “Little Moustache” Antonini and Giovanni “Black Rat” Galleoni, who were gunned down in front of bars and restaurants on a busy street just meters from the beach.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis arrives to lead the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo

Additional reporting by Massimiliano di Giorgio, editing by David Evans

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