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Pope Urges Sicilians to Fight Mafia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Mafia dumped a lamb with its throat slit on the doorstep of a prison chaplain Saturday in a macabre, sneering challenge to visiting Pope John Paul II and the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church in mob-racked Sicily.

“You’ll end up the same way,” read a note left with the lamb at anti-Mafia priest Gino Sacchetti’s home in Termini Imerese on the road between Catania and Palermo, the Sicilian capital.

Italian television viewers learned of the slaughtered lamb--a classic Mafia warning--as John Paul tended his flock at a large outdoor Mass here where he urged Sicilians to confront adversity with “Christian courage” and blessed the memory of a Sicilian priest slain last year.

Making his fourth visit to the island where the Mafia was born, the 74-year-old Pope repeatedly attacked organized crime, telling Sicilians they must demonstrate strength, action and unity to confront it. Silence, he warned, amounts to complicity. “Catania, rise up and cloak yourself in light and justice,” he urged upon his arrival Friday night.

In a round of appearances on the second day of a three-day Sicilian visit, John Paul was strong-voiced and high-spirited. He used a cane but did not appear overly troubled by a sore right leg still mending after a break April 29.

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The Pope told a crowd of enthusiastic young people at a soccer stadium that it is their responsibility to bring Christian virtues to bear in the interests of a healthier society.

“When the new generations bring these fruits, corruption is defeated, violence is defeated, the Mafia is defeated,” he said.

Catania, a port and agricultural center in the shadow of Mt. Etna, suffers like the rest of Sicily from the vicissitudes of organized crime, its bishop told the Pope.

“These range from extortion rackets to Mafia violence to organized and petty crime, narco-trafficking . . . and the vampire-like behavior of the loan sharks,” said Bishop Luigi Bonmarito.

In a powerful message to inmates at a home for juvenile offenders, the Pope said there is “a strong yearning in Sicily to be redeemed and liberated,” particularly from “the powers of the Mafia and other dark forces.”

“Those responsible for violence and arrogance stained by human blood will have to respond before the justice of God,” he said in a message to the young prisoners. “Never must you surrender to the mortifying offensive of evil. Never must you allow yourself to be caught up in the spiral of hate which robs joy from life and closes the heart to hope and love.”

A grass-roots anti-Mafia movement has been growing across Sicily since the killings in 1992 of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Mafia members accused of Borsellino’s murder are on trial, and Falcone’s alleged killers go to court early next year.

In the flux, the Sicilian church, led by parish priests, has emerged as a leading force against a Mafia that has killed more than lambs.

“I am thinking of Father Giuseppe Puglisi, courageous witness to the truth of the Gospel,” the Pope said at a morning Mass whose worshipers included the mother and sister of Judge Borsellino, killed by a car bomb in 1992.

Puglisi, 56, was executed by a gunman in the Palermo slum of Brancaccio in September, 1993, “a victim of hatred and violence,” John Paul said.

Sacchetti, the priest who was threatened Saturday, is a 55-year-old prison chaplain and runs a drug-rehabilitation clinic. His car was burned in September.

“The church is a target because of the difference between what it teaches and the culture of death that belongs to these people,” Palermo Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo told reporters when asked about the slaughtered lamb.

Despite unprecedented police successes since the killings of the judges, organized crime remains a cloying, deep-rooted fact of life in Sicily. Its leaders do not take affronts lightly.

On his last visit to Sicily, in May, 1993, John Paul scrapped the prepared text of a speech in Agrigento to deliver a powerful, emotional appeal to the church to stand up to the Mafia.

That summer, bombs damaged two churches in Rome, including the basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the Pope’s titular church in his role as bishop of Rome.

When Puglisi was slain last year, some church sources speculated that it may have been mob bosses’ way of repaying the insult the Pope had dealt them in Agrigento.

As the Pope embarked for Sicily on Friday on his first trip since canceling a visit to the United States last month, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told the Parliament that he would extend the mandate of 7,000 Italian army troops who reinforce police in Sicily as an anti-Mafia measure.


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