Pope pays tribute to priest slain by Mafia
He honors clergyman who protected youths from organized crime
PALERMO, Sicily — Pope Francis appealed to Mafiosi to renounce their quests for power and money as he visited Sicily on Saturday to honor a priest slain by mob henchmen for trying to protect youths from the evil clutches of organized crime.
The daylong trip by the pontiff to the Mediterranean island where the Cosa Nostra is rooted marked the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi. He was declared a martyr by the Vatican and beatified in 2013, the last formal step before possible sainthood.
Francis paid tribute to the priest, who worked to keep unemployed youths in a poor neighborhood of Palermo from turning to local Mafia bosses for jobs like pushing drugs.
Tens of thousands of people cheered Francis at an open air Mass held in the late morning at an esplanade along the port city’s waterfront. “Let’s renew the church,” read a large banner carried by young people in the crowd as Francis was driven by in his white popemobile.
In a city where many business owners pay Cosa Nostra “protection” money to stay open, Francis drew applause when he told the crowd: “If the Mafioso litany is, ‘you don’t know who I am,’ the Christian one is, ‘I need you.’ If the Mafia threat is ‘you will pay me,’ the Christian prayer is ‘Lord, help me to love.’
“Thus I say to the Mafiosi: Change, brothers and sisters. Quit thinking about yourselves and your money,” Francis said. “You know, a funeral shroud doesn’t have pockets. You can’t take it with you.”
Puglisi was fatally shot in the neck, on his 56th birthday, on the doorstep of his home in Palermo. Courts ruled that the gunman was carrying out the orders of Mafia bosses irritated by the priest’s encouragement of young people to turn their backs on the mob.
Pope Francis paid his respects Saturday in Palermo, Sicily, at the place where the Rev. Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi was murdered in 1993.