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Catholic Church

Pope Francis visits organized crime heartland, says mafiosi 'excommunicated'

Pope Francis has denounced organized crime groups, saying mafiosi were 'excommunicated' from the Catholic Church. He made the remarks as he visited the heartland of one of Italy's most feared mafias.

Pope: Mafia members 'excommunicated'

During his visit on Saturday to the southern Italian region of Calabria, the pope made informal comments to the crowd of worshippers, telling them the mafia was the "adoration of evil and contempt for the common good."

"Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated," he said, to sustained applause from the crowd.

The remarks are considered the strongest made by a pope against organized crime groups in two decades, since 1993 when Pope John Paul warned members of Sicily's mafia that they would face the justice of God.

However Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said Pope Francis' stern words were not a formal decree of Catholic Church law about excommunication, a process in which a person is expelled from the church. Instead, it was more a direct message to mafiosi that they had effectively excommunicated themselves because of their criminal actions. It was an attempt to isolate the mafiosi in their own communities, Benedettini told the Reuters news agency.

The choice of the word by the Pope was significant, however, because many mafiosi saw themselves as religious. There have been allegations that some priests turn a blind eye to crime families.

Comfort for mafia victims

While visiting Calabria, which is home to the 'Ndrangheta mafia, the 77-year-old pope met relatives of Nicola "Coco" Campognolo, a three-year-old boy who was killed along with his grandfather in January in an attack blamed on mob drug turf wars.

According to Benedettini, he told them, "It must never happen again that a child suffers in this way."

The pope also aimed to highlight the struggle of the region's young people, who face high unemployment and temptation to join crime syndicates.

Pope Francis visited the region despite fears that he could himself become a target in the organized crime world.

se/bk (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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