Pope Francis denounces 'evil, blood-stained' mafia

Pope Francis after leading an audience with the family members of victims of the mafia at the San Gregorio VII church in Rome (21 March 2014) The Pope was uncompromising in his criticism of the mafia as he met family members bereaved by organised crime

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Pope Francis has launched a stinging attack on the mafia, warning gangsters that they will go to hell unless they repent and stop doing evil.

"Blood-stained money, blood-stained power, you can't bring it with you to your next life. Repent," he said.

He was speaking at a prayer vigil for relatives of those killed by the mafia.

The Pope has spoken out frequently about the evils of corruption and wrote a booklet on the subject in 2005 when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

'No joy'

The meeting near Rome on Friday - organised by a citizens' group called Libera - was aimed at demonstrating the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to organised crime, and rejecting what some critics say were links between parts of the Church and mafia bosses who claimed to be good Catholics.

Pope Francis (right) leaves the church in Rome with Father Luigi Ciotti of the Catholic Libera association The vigil is held every year, but this was the first time that it was attended by the Pope
Pope Francis delivers his speech during a meeting with relatives of innocent mafia victims The Pope told told Italy's mobsters to relinquish their 'blood-stained money' which 'cannot be taken into paradise'
Pope Francis greets the faithful as he leaves at the end of a meeting with relatives of innocent mafia victims More than 1,000 people attended prayers with the Pope at a church near the Vatican
Pope Francis (centre right) attends the service The meeting was an attempt to draw a line under the church's historic ties with mafia dons claiming to be God-fearing Roman Catholics

The vigil was filled with those who have suffered at the hands of the mafia, including people whose family members and loved ones had been killed.

As the names of those murdered were read out, the Pope listened, deep in sombre thought, says he BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome.

After expressing solidarity with the 842 people at the vigil, he said that he could not leave the service without addressing those not present: The "protagonists" of mafia violence.

"This life that you live now won't give you pleasure. It won't give you joy or happiness," he said.

"There's still time to not end up in hell, which is what awaits you if you continue on this path."

Our correspondent says there is a long list of brave priests in Italy who have stood up to the mafia, and some have paid with lives.

But he says that the wider Church has been accused of not doing enough to confront the gangsters.

Anti-mafia activists hope that the Pope's words are a signal that he is on their side.

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