Pope tells Mafia to stop evil or prepare for hell
By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis, in an annual ceremony held to remember the hundreds of innocent people murdered by the Italian mafia, made a solemn plea for mobsters to change or else "end up in hell".
The mafia continues to plague much of southern Italy: just on Monday, a four-year-old boy was shot dead, along with his mother and her boyfriend, near the southern city of Taranto in a suspected mob hit.
At the end of an emotional ceremony in Rome in which the relatives of those murdered read the names of about 900 innocent mafia victims, the pope said the mafia "has no pity even for a child".
"You have power and money now from much dirty business and many mafia crimes - it is blood money and blood power, and you can't take it with you to the afterlife," Francis said in a Rome parish church packed with almost 900 relatives, many of whom held pictures of their slain loved ones.
"Men and women of the mafia, please change your lives. Convert. Stop doing evil ... There's still time to stay out of hell. That's what's waiting for you if you stay on this path."
Francis's words recalled those of Pope John Paul, who in 1993 angrily called on mafiosi to "repent, because one day you will face the judgment of God".
The pope's stand is important because, according to investigators, mob bosses often seek to establish close ties to local priests as a way to show that their authority is recognized even by the Church.
It is the first time a pope has attended the annual event - now in its 19th year - which is always held on the first day of spring "as a sign of hope and rebirth," said Turin priest don Luigi Ciotti, who founded the anti-mafia group Libera, which organizes the ceremony. Continued...