The Pope has criticised the “blasphemous” mafia during a visit to Sicily to pay tribute to a priest who was shot dead in a mob hit in 1993.
Speaking to a crowd of around 100,000 in Palermo, he said: “I say to the Mafiosi: change, brothers and sisters. Quit thinking about yourselves and your money.
“You know, a funeral shroud doesn’t have pockets. You can’t take it with you.”
He added: “You can’t believe in God and belong to the mafia. Those who belong to the mafia don’t lead a Christian existence because their lives are blasphemous.”
The Pope’s visit to the Italian island marks 25 years since Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi was gunned down on his doorstep at point-blank range.
The parish priest had been trying to encourage youngsters in the rough Palermo suburb of Brancaccio not to get involved with the mafia.
“I was waiting for you,” the priest reportedly said as the killer shot him dead on his 56th birthday.
A court later ruled the murder was carried out on the orders of mafia bosses.
The September 1993 killing came when Italy was still dealing with the aftermath of the murder of two anti-mob judges.
Former pope Jean Paul II had visited the island months before and urged Sicilians to turn against the mafia, leading to mob attacks on two churches.
Father Puglisi was declared a martyr “killed by hatred of the faith” in 2012 and beatified a year later, the last formal step before possible sainthood.
Pope Francis has openly criticised organised crime groups since he became head of the Catholic Church five years ago.
While in Naples in 2015 – home to the Camorra group – he condemned those “who exploit and corrupt young people, the poor and the disadvantaged”.
In Calabria, he urged Catholics to resist the local mob known as the ‘Ndrangheta.
“Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as the mafiosi do, are not in communion with God,” he said, declaring them “ex-communicated”.
The Vatican is considering creating a new doctrine ex-communicating organised crime members worldwide. Ex-communication banishes people from the spiritual life and sacraments of the Catholic Church.