- (Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile)
The day after the beatification of a priest who was murdered by the mafia two decades ago, Pope Francis urged mobsters on Sunday to stop exploiting and enslaving people and convert to God.
"My thoughts are with the suffering of women, men and also children who are exploited by the many mafias who make them slaves, through prostitution, through many social pressures," Reuters quoted Pope Francis as saying during a traditional weekly address that was attended by tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
"Behind all this slavery, there are mafias… They cannot do this, they cannot make our brothers slaves, we must pray to the Lord to make these Mafiosi convert to God," the Pope said.
The Pope's call was for both "Mafiosi and Mafiose" (male and female) to convert to God, according to Vatican Insider.
Pope Francis was speaking the day after the beatification of priest Giuseppe Puglisi, who was murdered by gunmen in 1993 outside his home in Palermo.
"Don Puglisi was an exemplary priest, devoted especially to youth ministry. He was teaching children according to the gospel and taking them out of the mob, and so they tried to defeat him and killed him. In reality, though, it is he that won, with Christ Risen," the Pope told the crowd, according to Catholic News Agency.
"We praise God for his luminous testimony and we treasure his example!"
Puglisi, who worked among the poor, was gunned down by the Sicilian Mafia months after Pope John Paul II visited Sicily and called on mobsters to "repent, because one day you will face the judgment of God."
The United Nations estimates that Italy's three top crime groups, which includes the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, have a joint annual turnover of around $150 billion.
Pope Francis has urged the Catholic Church to address poverty.
Soon after his election in March, Pope Francis told the cardinals that the Church must not become just another charitable group without its divine mission, urging they must stick to the faith's Gospel roots and shun modern temptations. And when he addressed the media for the first time, the Pope reminded Catholics that Jesus, not the pope, is at the center of the Church, which he said should be "poor, and for the poor."
Earlier on Sunday, Pope Francis, who is also bishop of Rome, visited a Rome parish for the first time. The Church of Saints Elisabeth and Zachariah is on the city's outskirts, and he apparently wanted to give importance to the faithfuls on the periphery.
At the parish, the Pope gave mass and joked with local children.
"You can understand reality better from the outskirts than the center," Reuters quoted him as saying. He also held a light-hearted Q&A with children about the Trinity.
God is "not a spray," he told them, jokingly, according to Insider. "The Trinity is not a product of human reasoning, it is the form in which God revealed himself to us, not from a pulpit but by walking alongside humanity."