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Pope honors priest he says was murdered by Mafia

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis paid tribute to a courageous priest murdered by the Sicilian Mafia as a martyr and urged mobsters on Sunday to abandon their evil ways, particularly the exploitation of people in trafficking rackets such as prostitution.

Francis issued his call to organized crime members to convert their hearts, a day after the beatification of the Rev. Giuseppe "Pino" Puglisi in Palermo.

The Vatican honored 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 neighborhood 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.

Cosa Nostra bosses allegedly had ordered Puglisi's murder because he defied the Mafia by his preaching and work with young people. -- AP

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