Pope Francis condemns mafia for 'enslaving people'

Pope Francis in St Peter's Square. Photo: 26 May 2013
Image caption Pope Francis said he shared "the great pain" of mafia victims

Pope Francis has condemned mafia groups for "exploiting and enslaving people", urging mobsters to repent.

Speaking after his weekly blessing in St Peter's Square in Rome, he said "we must pray to the Lord to make these mafiosi convert to God".

His comments came a day after the beatification of Don Giuseppe Puglisi, a Roman Catholic priest murdered by the mafia in Sicily in 1993.

The ceremony marked the penultimate step on the path to his sainthood.

Strong stand

"I think of the great pain suffered by men, women and even children, exploited by so many mafias, who make them slaves, through prostitution, through many social pressures," Pope Francis said on Sunday.

"They cannot do this, they cannot make our brothers slaves," he said.

The pontiff also used his traditional Sunday appearance to pilgrims to hail Father Puglisi as a "martyr" and "an exemplary priest".

The beatification ceremony in Sicily's capital Palermo drew more than 50,000 people, although Pope Francis did not attend it.

By beatifying Father Puglisi, the Church is making a strong stand against mafia crime - which has been protected by a code of silence - the BBC's David Willey in Rome says.

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