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Pope's plea to Mafia in tribute to slain priest

Pope Francis paid tribute to a courageous priest murdered by the Sicilian Mafia as a martyr and urged mobsters to abandon their evil ways.

Francis issued his call to organised crime members yesterday to convert their hearts, a day after the beatification of the Rev Giuseppe 'Pino' Puglisi in Palermo. The Vatican honoured Puglisi as a martyr in the ceremony, 20 years after he was slain in the city by mobsters for defiantly preaching against the Mafia in a neighbourhood where Cosa Nostra held sway.

Francis told a crowd in St Peter's Square that the Mafia killed the Rev Giuseppe Puglisi because he tried to keep youths from being recruited by mobsters.

Beatification is the last formal step before possible sainthood. As part of the process leading to beatification, Church officials considered statements that convicted Mafiosi had given to investigators. The mobsters told authorities that Cosa Nostra bosses had ordered Fr Puglisi's murder because he had dared defy the Mafia by his preaching and work with young people.

Mafia bosses convicted of ordering the slaying and are serving life sentences in prison.