He told CNA that the working group, which will officially start in October, includes around 40 Church and civil leaders, including Italian judges, for “study, research, and teaching” to “restore the purity of the image of Jesus and Mary which comes from the Gospels.”
It is a laity-driven initiative, he stressed, and while it will begin in Italy, he said that participants hope in future to address other manifestations of this Marian exploitation, such as by drug lords in South America.
Pope Francis, in his Aug. 15 letter to Cecchin, said he “learned with pleasure” of the project and wished “to express my appreciation for the important initiative.”
“Marian devotion is a religious-cultural heritage to be safeguarded in its original purity, freeing it from superstructures, powers or conditioning that do not meet the evangelical criteria of justice, freedom, honesty and solidarity,” the pope wrote.
Cecchin explained that another common way Marian devotion is abused by criminal organizations is through “inchini,” which means “bows.”
During Marian processions in some towns and villages in southern Italy, an image of the Virgin Mary will be stopped at the houses of mafia bosses and made to “greet” the boss with a “bow.”
“This is a way of saying to the population, and in a symbolism which uses the religion of the people, that this mafia boss is blessed by God -- in fact, directed by the Mother of God, who stops to recognize that he is the leader, and therefore we all must obey him, as if [he has] a divine mandate,” Cecchin said.
Mary is an image of God’s beauty, the priest and former exorcist explained. “We know that the evil one, evil, wants to ruin the beauty God has created. In Mary, for us, is the image of absolutely the enemy of evil. With her, by her birth, the head of the serpent is crushed.”
“Therefore, evil also uses the figure of Mary to go against God,” he noted. “So, we must rediscover the beauty of the religious cultural heritage of every people and, furthermore, safeguard it in its original purity.”
The new working group of the Pontifical International Marian Academy wants to use formation to teach children and families a true theology of Mary, Cecchin said.