Pope Francis on Sunday condemned the “mafias” that turned people into “slaves” and prayed for gangsters to turn to God, a day after a slain priest was proclaimed the first “mafia martyr”.
“I think of all the pain of men, women and even children who are exploited by many mafias,” Francis told tens of thousands of followers in St Peter’s Square in a traditional weekly address.
“They are forced to do work that makes them slaves, like prostitution,” he said. “Behind all this slavery, there are mafias.”
“We pray that these mafia men and women convert to God,” he said in unscripted remarks.
Father Pino Puglisi, who was gunned down by the mafia in 1993 for turning children away from a life of crime, was beatified at a mass in Palermo on Saturday with tens of thousands in attendance.
“He took young people away from the mafia, which tried to defeat him by killing him but in reality he is the one who won in the end,” Francis said.
Puglisi has been given the status of “blessed” and “martyr of the faith” by the Roman Catholic Church, the first step towards full sainthood.
His pleas for help from political and religious authorities were frequently ignored but since his death the Church has become much more critical of mafiosi, who are often outwardly devout.