Pope tells mafia: repent or go to hell

Pope gives speech

Francis launches the most outspoken attack by a pontiff

LAST UPDATED AT 08:15 ON Sat 22 Mar 2014

Pope Francis has launched an unprecedented attack on the mafia, warning them they will go to hell unless they change their ways.

Speaking at a meeting with relatives of those killed by the mafia, he warned organised crime leaders: "Blood-stained money, blood-stained power, you can't bring it with you to your next life. Repent.”

He added later: "I feel that I cannot conclude without saying a word to the protagonists who are absent today – the men and women Mafiosi. Please change your lives. Convert yourselves. Stop doing evil."

The meeting was the first time a pontiff has taken part in the annual commemoration day held by anti-mafia organisation Libera. Francis’s stance is a break from the past, when some of his 20th century predecessors were seen as reluctant to condemn mafia bosses.

The first explicit condemnation of the mafia came in 1993, when John Paull II warned gangsters that judgment day was coming and that they should “convert”. Two months after that statement two Roman churches were bombed.

Some priests in Italy who have stood up to the mafia have paid with their lives. Anti-mafia activists hope the pope’s statements will lead to a tougher stance from the Catholic Church.

Between them, Italy's leading crime groups – Sicily's Cosa Nostra, Calabria's 'Ndrangheta, and the Camorra from around the southern city of Naples – have a joint annual turnover of €116bn (£97bn), according to the United Nations. · 

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