Pope Speaks Out Against Mafia during Visit to Sicily


Pope Benedict on Sunday said the Mafia was "a path of death" that Sicily's young people should shun from giving the crime group a real moral hammering.

Benedict, making his first visit to Sicily as pope, said an open-air mass for more than 200,000 people near the Sicilian capital's port, and then later addressed a rally of tens of thousands of young people.

"Do not succumb to the temptations of the Mafia, which is a path of death," he told the young people gathered at an evening rally in a square.

The pope mentioned the Mafia only in that sentence of his two-page speech to the young people, which centered on family values, and in a speech to bishops in which he mentioned that a priest, Pino Puglisi, had been killed by the mob in 1993.

Sicily is no longer the scene of the bloody Mafia wars of the 1990s, but magistrates say the mob still does brisk business in drug trafficking, extortion and getting a slice of lucrative public works contracts for companies it controls.

Benedict's homily was sprinkled with phrases such as a biblical reference to "a tremendous situation of violence" and the need to be "ashamed by evil", but leading anti-Mafia activists said they had been hoping for a real moral hammering of the Mafia.

Benedict's words in Sicily were being compared to a pivotal visit to the southern island by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

During a visit to the city of Agrigento, John Paul improvised a scathing and specific attack on the Mafia, which has gone down in anti-Mafia history.

Speaking in a raised voice and with a clenched fist, John Paul thundered against Mafiosi, warning them directly that unless they "converted" to good, they would one day be subjected to God's judgment for their blood letting and misdeeds.

Several months later on a sleepy summer night in Rome, bombs placed by the Mafia exploded in two churches in Rome, including the Basilica of St John in Lateran, the pope's cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

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