On a mission
Pope Francis in Italy pays tribute to priest killed by the Mafia.
PALERMO (Sicily): Pope Francis appealed to Mafiosi to renounce their quests for power and money as he visited Sicily to honour a priest slain by mob henchmen for trying to protect youths from the evil clutches of organised crime.
The day-long trip by Francis to the Mediterranean island where the Cosa Nostra is rooted marked the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi’s assassination.
Puglisi 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 neighbourhood of Palermo from turning to local Mafia bosses for jobs like pushing drugs.
The papal pilgrimage came in counterpoint to the latest revelations about priests and bishops who sexually abused children or connived to protect the abusers in various nations, disclosures battering the highest levels of the church and testing the faith of rank-and-file Catholics.
Tens of thousands of people cheered Francis at an open air Mass held at an esplanade along the port city’s waterfront on Saturday.
“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.
Pressure is building on Francis to say what he knew about the sexual misconduct of US prelate Theodore McCarrick, who recently was stripped of his cardinal’s rank by the pope.
In a city where local bosses can exert influence by walking through a neighbourhood and 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,” added Francis.
Gift of love: Francis receiving a gift from an artist of a painting of slain priest Puglisi during the mass at the Foro Italico seafront.