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Last Updated: Friday, 6 April 2007, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Sicily's Easter penitents parade
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Hooded men take part in Good Friday procession in Corleone.
The tradition of wearing hoods goes back centuries
For the first Good Friday in four decades, the people of Corleone, on the Italian island of Sicily, have been allowed to parade wearing hoods.

Police in the 1960s had banned the religious processions of Easter penitents as part of a crackdown against mafia members.

Police had said the hoods breached a law forbidding men and women to cover their faces in public.

Corleone is the hometown of Bernardo Provenzano, a mafia chief now in jail.

Citizens of Corleone have walked through the streets of their remote Sicilian town notorious for its mafia connections, their faces and upper body completely hidden by white hoods with slit holes for the eyes.

The tradition dates back centuries to when Sicily was under Spanish rule at the time of the Inquisition.

'Male burka'

In the 1960s, during a period of particularly serious mafia criminal activity, the police banned such religious processions as part of their efforts to capture elusive mafia bosses and their henchmen.

The police argued that the Easter penitents were breaching an Italian law which forbids both men and women from covering their faces in public.

Now the green light has been given by the authorities in Palermo for these strange and picturesque street processions to be held once again.

The police say there is no longer any risk of dangerous criminals who are fugitives from justice hiding under what critics have been calling a male burka, a reference to that all-enveloping garment worn by many women in some Muslim countries.

But what has been hailed by some Sicilians as a welcome return to normality is being strongly criticised by some Catholics as a sign that the Church is looking too much back towards the past rather than to the future.

They also point out that only this week a former deputy president of the Sicilian region was arrested on suspicion of collusion with the mafia.

The Sicilian mafia is certainly not dead, even though the arch-criminal of Corleone, Bernardo Provenzano, is now safely behind bars - most likely for the rest of his life.


SEE ALSO
Mafia men get 300 years in jail
16 Nov 06 |  Europe
Profile: Bernardo Provenzano
11 Apr 06 |  Europe

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