POPE Francis has spoken out against mafia organisations exploiting and enslaving people, calling on mafiosi to repent in words that recalled an impassioned plea by Pope John Paul II 20 years ago.
Speaking off the cuff yesterday after his weekly Angelus blessing in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke about the Mafia for the first time since he became pontiff two months ago.
He issued a call to organised crime members to convert their hearts, a day after the beatification of the Reverend Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi in Palermo. The Vatican honoured Puglisi as a martyr in the ceremony, 20 years after he was killed in the city by criminals for defiantly preaching against the Mafia in a neighbourhood where it held sway.
The pope told a crowd in St Peter’s Square that the Mafia killed Puglisi because he tried to keep youths from being recruited by gangsters.
He said: “Educating young people according to the gospel, he took them away from organised crime, and thus it [the Mafia] tried to defeat him by killing him.”
Puglisi was gunned down a few months after Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Sicily and angrily called on gangsters to “convert” their hearts, warning them one day they would face the “judgment of God”.
At the time, the island was still shocked by the 1992 bomb blast assassinations by Cosa Nostra, two months apart, of Italy’s top anti-Mafia magistrates.
“I think of the great pain suffered by men, women and even children, exploited by so many Mafias,” Pope Francis said.
He decried the crime syndicates for “making them do work that makes them slaves, prostitution” and added: “Behind this exploitation and slavery are the Mafias.”
Pope Francis, two months into his papacy, has branded human trafficking as one of the most terrible evils plaguing the world.
“They cannot make our brothers slaves,” he said. “Let us pray that these mafiosi and mafiose convert to God,” he added, using the Italian words to indicate both male and female members.
Women have increasingly been playing command roles in Italy’s organised crime world as crackdowns see many of the leading male members jailed for long terms, and have long helped syndicates by hiding fugitives in their homes and with other assistance.
Puglisi worked in one of Palermo’s poorest and roughest neighbourhoods, trying to give hope and options to young people, often recruited by the Mafia for drug pushing.
Pope Francis has repeatedly said his vision of the Catholic church is a “poor church for the poor,” and encouraged clergy to work with people on society’s margins.
Investigators say along with drug trafficking, human trafficking has become one of the most profitable industries for organised crime.