VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has hailed a priest murdered by the Sicilian Mafia and urged mobsters to stop exploiting people in criminal rackets including prostitution.
The pontiff exhorted Mafiosi to change their ways, issuing the call Sunday, a day after the beatification of an Italian priest in Palermo who was slain in 1993 by mobsters after he defiantly preached against the Mafia in a neighborhood where Cosa Nostra held sway.
Urgent: Should the Pope change the Catholic Church?
Francis told a crowd in St. Peter's Square the Mafia killed the Rev. Giuseppe Puglisi because he tried to keep youths from being recruited by mobsters. He said it pains him when he thinks of all the people exploited by organized crime. Mobsters control rackets for prostitution, trafficking in illegal immigration and other forms of slavery.
Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict, put Puglisi on the fast track towards sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church when he signed a decree last year recognizing that Puglisi had been killed "in hatred of the faith."
He was killed for "depriving the Mafia of support, manpower and control of the city" with his large following in Palermo, said Cardinal Paolo Romeo, the primate of Sicily who presided over Saturday’s ceremony.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement that Puglisi "continues to be an example for all those who refuse to give in to the power of organized crime."
Six mafiosi were sentenced to life in prison for the murder which took place at a time when the Sicilian mafia was particularly ruthless.
© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.