Criticism comes after beatification ceremony for priest murdered by Cosa Nostra

Pope Francis has strongly criticised members of the Mafia for “exploiting and enslaving people”, and called on them to repent.

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square on Sunday for his weekly blessing, the Pontiff urged the faithful to “pray to the Lord to make these mafiosi convert to God”.

“I think of all the pain of men, women and even children who are exploited by many Mafias,” Pope Francis told thousands of people during his weekly address in St Peter’s Square on Sunday.

“They are forced to do work that makes them slaves, like prostitution, behind all this slavery, there are Mafias.”

The Pope was speaking a day after the beatification of Don Giuseppe Puglisi, a Roman Catholic priest murdered by Sicilian crime gang the Cosa Nostra in 1993.

The ceremony in Palermo, attended by more than 80,000 people, marked the penultimate step on Father Puglisi’s path to sainthood. In his words to the St Peter’s Square crowd, Pope Francis described him as a “martyr” and “an exemplary priest”.