LAMEZIA TERME, Italy — Pope Benedict XVI condemned "ferocious" organized crime groups in the southern Calabria region, where lawlessness, corruption, and underdevelopment have resulted in one of Italy's highest unemployment rates.
The Pope, in a homily for tens of thousands of people from all over the region that forms the "toe" of Italy Sunday, said the area seems to be in a constant state of emergency and that he wanted to encourage the people's efforts to improve their condition.
"This is an area . . . where problems exist in acute and destabilizing forms, where crime groups that are often ferocious tear at the social fabric, a land that seems to be in a constant state of emergency," he said.
Calabria is home to the 'Ndrangheta, considered among the most dangerous and powerful crime syndicates in western Europe.
Investigators believe that the highly secretive Calabrian group has overtaken the Sicilian Mafia to dominate drug trafficking and extortion rackets in Europe and beyond.
Unemployment in Calabria, one of the most backward regions in Italy despite its potential in industries such as tourism and shipping, is about 32 percent against a national rate of 7.9 percent. Youth unemployment peaks at about 50 percent in parts of the mostly mountainous and coastal region.
Lamezia's mayor, Gianni Speranza, who has received threats from the mob because of his anti-crime programme, speaking before the pope, called Calabria "a land of suffering . . . of unacceptable unemployment, of dramatic injustices and violence."
In a damning assessment of Italy's south, U.S. diplomatic cables written in 2008 published by WikiLeaks this year describe Calabria as a region plagued by crooked or ineffective politicians, organised crime and a fatalistic people who are forced to pay protection money to the mob.
U.S. diplomats said in their economic and social assessment that Calabria would be a "failed state" if it were independent.
The Pope urged Calabrians to be "strong, hopeful and courageous" as they face the many difficulties in their region.
Combined annual turnover of Italy's three main crime groups, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camorra, is estimated at 135 billion euros ($188.6 billion), according to business association SOS Impresa.
A clear sign of the 'Ndrangheta spreading its tentacles into Europe came in 2007 when six Italians were killed in the Germany city of Duisburg in a feud between two of the group's clans.
Clan links to northern banks and firms have helped them to expand into profitable sectors and recycle profits made from criminal activities, experts say.
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