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Pope dismays anti-Mafia activists on Sicily visit

Pope Benedict encouraged Sicilians on Sunday to speak out about their problems, including organized crime, but disappointed activists who said he was not forceful enough and did not say the word Mafia.
/ Source: Reuters

Pope Benedict encouraged Sicilians on Sunday to speak out about their problems, including organized crime, but disappointed activists who said he was not forceful enough and did not say the word Mafia.

Benedict, making his first visit to Sicily as pope, said an open-air mass for tens of thousands of people near the Sicilian capital's port at the start of his day-long trip.

In his homily, the pope spoke of many of Sicily's pressing problems, including high unemployment, and of those who were "suffering physically and morally ... because of organized crime".

"I am here to give you strong encouragement not to be afraid to speak out clearly about human and Christian values ...," he said.

Sicily is no longer the scene of the Mafia wars of the 1990s, magistrates say the mob still does brisk business in drug trafficking, extortion and getting a slice of lucrative public works contracts for companies it controls.

Benedict's homily was sprinkled with phrases such as a biblical reference to "a tremendous situation of violence" and the need to be "ashamed by evil", but leading anti-Mafia activists said he did not go far enough.

"It is a great disappointment. I think the people of Palermo will be disappointed," said Rita Borsellino, whose brother Paolo, a leading anti-Mafia magistrate, was killed by a Mafia car bomb in Palermo in 1992.

"I was disappointed in the lack of force in what he said," she told Reuters. "I think it is indulging the Mafia too much to just call it organized crime and not call it by name. I hope he is stronger when he speaks to young people later today."

Paolo Borsellino was one of two magistrates killed in twin attacks in 1992. The other was Giovanni Falcone, who was blown up with his wife and his three-man police escort when the Mafia planted a massive bomb under the highway near Palermo airport.

The pope passed the spot on his way into the city.

During the open-air mass, a prayer was said by the congregation about the need not to be mere "spectators against violence".

The pope mentioned Father Paolo Puglisi, who was killed by the Mafia in 1993.

Dino Paternostro, a leading anti-Mafia activist in the town of Corleone made famous in the "The Godfather" films, also expressed disappointment.

"There were great expectations for what he would say. I really do hope he is stronger and more specific in the afternoon because the way things stand it seems like he is saying 'the Mafia is your problem'," Paternostro told Reuters.

Whatever Benedict says will inevitably be compared to a visit to Sicily by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

Before leaving the city of Agrigento, John Paul improvised a scathing and specific attack on the Mafia which has gone down in anti-Mafia history.

Speaking in a raised voice and with a clenched fist, John Paul thundered against Mafiosi, warning them directly that unless they "converted" to good, they would one day be subjected to God's judgement for their blood letting and misdeeds.

Several months later on a sleepy summer night in Rome, bombs placed by the Mafia exploded in two churches in Rome, including the Basilica of St John in Lateran, the pope's cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome.