Pope takes on the Mafia as he hails slain priest
Pope Benedict XVI hailed as a hero a slain priest who dared to challenge the Mafia in its stronghold, and he encouraged Sicilians not to resign themselves to deep-rooted evil on an island where organised crime has held sway for centuries.
"The temptation toward discouragement, to resignation, comes to those who are weak in faith, to those who confuse evil with good, to those who think that, faced with often profound evil, there is nothing to do," Benedict told tens of thousands of faithful at Sunday Mass at a sunshine-drenched park alongside Palermo's waterfront.
The pope later lamented the "barbarous" 1993 murder of the Rev Giuseppe 'Pino' Puglisi, who stirred consciences with his anti-Mafia preaching in one of Palermo's most heavily mobster-infested poor neighbourhoods.
In a speech in Palermo's cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, Benedict urged priests to keep Puglisi's memory alive by "imitating his heroic example".
Since Puglisi was gunned down by the Mafia, his supporters have been clamouring for the Vatican to officially proclaim him a martyr and so streamline the process that had begun several years ago for beatification and possible sainthood.
Among those recently backing an appeal for the pope to beatify Puglisi were Oscar-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore and Italian novelist Dacia Maraini.
But Benedict made no mention of the beatification process nor of martyrdom, recognition which would eliminate the requirement for a miracle to be attributed to Puglisi's intercession for beatification.
Earlier in the one-day visit, Benedict lamented that many Sicilians endured "physical and moral suffering because of organised crime".
"I am here to give you strong encouragement not to be afraid to clearly give witness to human and Christian values," the pope said.
Benedict also urged young people to resist the Mafia and its "path to death".
But Benedict did not directly take to task the mobsters themselves, as his predecessor, John Paul II, did in 1993, in one of the most emotional and vehement denunciations of that long papacy.