The Pope condemns Mafia in angry plea: Sicilian visit turns into crusade against crime

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The Independent Online
THE POPE, clutching a crucifix, last night shouted an angry and impassioned appeal to the bosses of the Mafia: 'Repent - for one day the judgement of God will come.'

The outburst came after a Mass in Agrigento's valley of Greek temples on the second day of his Sicilian tour, which has turned into a crusade against the Mafia. 'Sicily,' he went on, 'has a right to peace.' Then, grasping the crucifix tighter and his voice rising in anger, he said:

'God tells us 'Thou shalt not kill.' No human community, or Mafia, can trample on this most holy law of God. This Sicilian people who so love life . . . cannot live under the pressure of a contrary civilisation, a civilisation of death. In the name of this resurrected Christ who is the way, the truth and the life, I tell those responsible: repent - for one day the judgement of God will come.'

Immediately after his arrival on Saturday he had set the tone by declaring that the Mafia was the Devil out to ensnare mankind into doing evil. At the same time he is defending the Sicilian clergy against charges that many are directly or indirectly involved with the Mafia, but urging them to set a personal example to their flocks.

The Pope's third trip to Sicily comes at a time when the Mafia's stranglehold on much of the island's society is weakening. The political protection it long enjoyed seems to have vanished, at least at the top level, and the evidence of the state-protected supergrasses has led to many round-ups and severe inroads into its organisation.

The Catholic Church's attitude, too, is clearly changing. On his first visit the Pope did not mention the word Mafia; on his second he was by no means as outspoken as now. This could signal a change among the local bishops advising him, or a recognition within the Church itself that in its anxiety to keep out Communism it had for years been turning a blind eye to serious crime.

'As in the beginning, the Devil is ensnaring mankind in our times too,' the Pope told crowds in Trapani, thought to be a Mafia centre. 'Too often experience shows us that man, trapped by the Evil One, lets himself be induced to walk in the ways of injustice, oppression and egoism.'