The Pope has allegedly been identified as a target by the terrorist group The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
This intention apparently follows the Pope’s condemnation of the terror organization’s recent actions, when they beheaded a number of Christian victims. The Pope is a known pacifist and has been outspoken regarding the treatment of Christian by jihadist militants; however, these comments have now singled him out as “the greatest exponent of the Christian religion,” and consequently a “bearer of false truth.”
Though it takes all threats against the Pope very seriously, the Vatican do not believe that the Pope is heading the list of potential ISIS targets.
"There is nothing serious to this," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Catholic News Agency. "There is no particular concern in the Vatican."
The Italian government are more concerned, as they are aware that terrorists in Italy can currently circulate more freely, and so they have stepped up security measures in strategic locations such as the Vatican, embassies, churches, public transport terminals, sea ports and travel agencies.
"ISIS poses an international and European security threat and we in Italy feel particularly exposed," commented Italy’s deputy interior minister Filippo Bubbico.
A source from Italian intelligence revealed that Islamists have not attempted to assassinate the Pope or blow up St Peter’s so far because they regard Italy as a strategic place to launch attacks, rather than more obvious targets like America or Britain, and therefore want to "keep Italy sweet." ISIS have some support from within the country – around eighty Italian nationals are reported to be fighting for the hard-line terror group, who are said to be so extreme that they were even disavowed by al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
This is not the first time that the Pope’s candid comments have put him in the firing line: last year he became a mafia target after campaigning against corruption.
The mafia members do not differ greatly from islamic militants in that both have the conviction that killing is not always a sin; a survey of jailed mobsters revealed that 88% were religious and, according to anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, do not consider themselves as criminals:
"Before killing, a member of the ‘Ndrangheta prays, "said Gratteri. " He asks the Madonna for protection."
The mafia applies a system of pressures on various targets, for example on business owners to pay protection money, first by shooting up his premises, then by kneecapping him. "If the person still refuses, the mobster is ‘forced’ to kill him, explained Gratteri. " If you have no choice, you are not committing a sin."
Gratteri warned that Pope Francis’s attempts to expose corruption within the Vatican was making white collar mobsters who do business with corrupt prelates, "nervous and agitated."
Should the Pope use his position to highlight criminal practices in this way, especially if, in the process, he puts his own life in danger?
Perhaps sometimes it is necessary for a figurehead to be willing to put himself in danger in order to effect positive change. Whatever your personal views or religion, Pope Francis must surely be commended for his willingness to speak out in support of his beliefs, even if in doing so he has compromised his own personal safety.
As Anne Strieber is, in her own words, "officially a Catholic", she often feels moved to comment on various aspects of Catholicism and related topics – check out her wonderful diary entries on the subject.