Pope Francis has branded Italy's Mafia chiefs slavemongers and told them to seek God's mercy, a day after the Vatican beatified a Palermo priest murdered for his stance against the Cosa Nostra.
"I think of all the pain of men, women and even children who are exploited by many Mafias," the Pontiff told thousands of people during his weekly address in St Peter's Square yesterday. "They are forced to do work that makes them slaves, like prostitution. Behind all this slavery, there are Mafias. We pray that these Mafia men and women convert to God."
About 80,000 people gathered in Palermo on Sunday for a beatification ceremony for Father Pino Puglisi, who was shot dead in 1993 for trying to turn children against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.
Salvatore Grigoli, the Cosa Nostra killer who shot him, was later jailed and claimed he had found God. He revealed that Puglisi smiled at him before he pulled the trigger, telling him: "I have been expecting you."
"Father Puglisi was an exemplary priest, particularly dedicated to preaching to the young," said Pope Francis.
The Catholic Church has a somewhat equivocal record in speaking out against the Mafia.
Puglisi was ordained as a priest in 1960 by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffiani, who responded to the question "What is the Mafia?" by stating: "As far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent."