The Mafia ‘Boss of bosses’ Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina was nicknamed ‘The Beast’ because of his brutality. He led a reign of terror which included the assassinations of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. In violation of established Mafia codes, he advocated the murder of women and children. Assassin Giovanni Brusca estimated that he murdered between 100 and 200 people on behalf of Riina. It was from prison that Riina ordered the murder of a 13-year-old boy who was strangled and his body dissolved in acid. Lucia, his daughter, claimed that her father was a Christian. “We are Catholics and I owe my love to my father and my mother,” she said. “Mama and Papa used to come into our room to say a prayer of thanks to Jesus together.” Toto was caught on a wiretap boasting afresh about his gory crimes and declaring that he ‘regretted nothing’. Riina died in 2017 aged 87. One of his nephews said: “Goodbye Uncle Toto, you’re going to the angels.”
How do we make sense of evil and atrocity? This story can help us talk about Jesus through the lens of evil and the mafia. Toto Riina was described as the “fiercest and nastiest” mobster in history. However we should notice that many thoughtful and intelligent people do not believe in evil. Materialists contend that humans are ‘just machines’ and this mindset urges us to deny that Riina was evil. All his brutal deeds have been determined by the laws of physics. Many Hindus contend that Riina was merely serving the hidden purposes of karma. All of his victims were being punished for something they did in previous lives. There are Buddhists who assert that everything is an illusion. Chariots do not exist. Minds do not exist. Evil is also an illusion. There are also pantheists who contend that everything is really God and this view informs us that God is ultimately responsible for Toto’s heinous crimes. New Testament teaching reveals that there is a spiritual battle going on between Christ and the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18). Humans can resist the devil’s schemes because Jesus has defeated evil and death. The story of Toto Riina is intriguing because the mobster claimed to be a Catholic Christian. Riina’s life raises important questions about hypocrisy, repentance, the kingdom of darkness and the nature of evil.
Four Ways of Looking at the Story
Materialist faith: “We believe that Toto was not evil because he was just a machine.”
Relativist faith: “We do not like Toto’s crimes but there are no absolutes by which to judge him.”
Buddhist faith: “We believe that everything, including evil, is an illusion.”
Christian faith: “We believe that Toto was an evil mobster. We hope he repented and trusted in Jesus before he died.”
1) How did Riina trust in murder?
2) Why do some people believe that Riina will not be judged by God?
3) How do relativists make sense of evil?
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