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”.
The pontiff’s 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.
“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.
Pope Francis 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 Don Giuseppe Puglisi, the Church is making a strong stand against mafia crime – which has been protected by a code of silence.