A religious procession in Sicily was diverted to pay a Godfather-themed tribute to a jailed Mafia boss, causing widespread outrage. Porters parading statutes of the Virgin Mary through the streets of Paternò, near Catania stopped twice outside the family house of a convicted mobster as a show of respect.
Footage of the incident uploaded online showed a band playing The Godfather's soundtrack as carriers swung and rotated a wood and gold effigy in a figurative bow to the convicted criminal. The grotesque scene took place on 2 December as Paternò celebrated Saint Barbara's Day. Nine statues of the Madonna are ferried across the town by different guilds during the revelries.
Significantly, one of the two groups that stopped before the house of the boss was the guild of city council employees. The other was that of fruit vendors. Local authorities have banned both associations from participating in future events.
Police said the tribute was dedicated to Salvatore Assinata, a high-ranked member of namesake local Assinata clan, which is affiliated to the larger Santapaola family. The mobster was not at home as he is currently serving time for Mafia association.
The local police commissioner described the episode as a "clear display of the Mafia's typical power of intimidation". Paternò mayor Mauro Mangano condemned the act, saying those responsible had nothing to do with the city council. "It's is unbearable to exploit celebrations in honour of our saint patron to convey messages against legality, obliging to Mafia culture," he said.
Police said they were considering further action against those responsible for the "bow".
The area is not new to surreal glorifications of criminality through mixtures of religion and Mafia culture. In September, police removed roadside posters put up for the baptism of another local boss' son. The notices that appeared in the nearby town of Giarre depicted the baby wearing a traditional Sicilian hat with a caption reading "this creature is cosa nostra," in reference to the Sicilian Mafia.
In July last year a detour saw another Madonna made to bow outside the house of a gang leader in the Calabrian town of Oppido Mamertina, causing indignation. Then, local Carabinieri policemen abandoned the procession in protest over the incident that was described by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano as "deplorable and disgusting".
In a separate development, police have seized assets of €13m (£9m, $14m) in an operation against fugitive Mafia overlord Matteo Messina Denaro. The raid targeted properties and companies believed to belong to the 53-year-old and his associates. Denaro, Italy's most wanted man, has been sought since 1993 on a series of charges including Mafia association, murder, mass killing and theft.