Pope Francis takes aim at the Mafia

Pope Francis leaves after celebrating mass in the St. Elizabeth and Zacharia parish church, in Rome, Sunday, May 26, 2013. AP Photo

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.

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.

Puglisi was beatified in a ceremony Saturday in Palermo, the Sicilian capital where he worked in a mobster-infested, poor neighborhood.

He was slain in 1993, a few months after Pope John Paul II visited Sicily and urged priests to rally the faithful against organized crime.

Puglisi encouraged young people, often jobless and easily recruited by Cosa Nostra, to turn their backs on the mob.

Beatification is the last formal step in the Catholic church's process before possible sainthood.

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