Pope Francis appealed to members of the Sicilian Mafia on Saturday to give up on a life of crime, saying the island does not need men and women of honor but rather of love.
The pontiff was paying a one-day visit to the southern Italian island to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the killing of Father Pino Puglisi by Mafia hitmen.
Celebrating Mass for tens of thousands of Sicilians gathered in Palermo’s port area, Francis said to members of the Mafia: “Change, brothers and sisters! Stop thinking about yourselves and your money. … Convert yourselves to the real God, Jesus Christ.” The pope added, “Mafiosi, if you don’t do this, your very life will be lost, and that will be your greatest defeat.”
Puglisi kept unemployed youths in the rough Brancaccio neighborhood in Palermo from turning to local Mafia bosses for jobs. He was 56 when he was slain, and in 2013 he was beatified after being recognized as a martyr “killed by hatred of the faith.”
In his homily at the open-air Mass, Francis said: “A mafioso does not live as a Christian, because he blasphemes with his life the name of God-love. Today, we need men and women of love, not men and women of honor; of service, not of overpowering. We need men and women to walk together, not to chase power.”
Earlier, the pope visited Piazza Armerina, a small, poor town in central Sicily. He said to the faithful gathered: “I am happy to be here with you. The Sicilian sun is beautiful.”
Sicilians cheered and clapped their hands. He drew more applause when he said, “The wounds which afflict you are many, and they have a name: social and cultural underdevelopment, the exploitation of workers and a lack of decent work for young people.” He also spoke about “extortionate money-lending” and “gambling.”
Francis also visited the house where Puglisi lived and met with the clergy in Palermo’s cathedral before returning to the Vatican.