NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - Pope Francis called on members of organised crime to turn away from violence and exploitation and stop the "tears of the mothers of Naples" after he visited one of the city's most violent and drug-infested neighbourhoods on Saturday.
Francis, on a day-long trip to the southern city, also spoke out against political corruption in a morning address to a crowd in the notorious Scampia neighbourhood, a stronghold of clans of the Camorra, the Naples version of the Sicilian mafia.
He was speaking in the shadow of a dilapidated sail boat-shaped housing project known as Le Vele, so dangerous that even police are sometimes afraid to enter, residents say.
He urged residents of the blighted area, which has often been the battleground of Camorra clans fighting each other for control of drug trafficking and extortion rackets, not too let criminals rob them of their hope.
Later at a Mass in the city centre, Francis urged Neapolitans to "react firmly to organisations that exploit and corrupt young people, that exploit the poor and the weak with cynical drug trafficking and other crimes".
He added: "To the criminals and all their accomplices, I, today, humbly and as a brother, repeat: convert yourselves to love and justice. It is possible to return to honesty. The tears of the mothers of Naples are asking this of you."
Since his election two years ago, Francis - who renounced the spacious papal apartments used by his predecessors and lives in a small apartment in a Vatican guest house - has made the defence of the poor and weakest members of society a key plank of his papacy.
He has also said members of organised crime excommunicate themselves from the Church and that it would welcome them back if they repent.
In Scampia, where drugs are sold openly and youth unemployment is more than 40 percent, Francis listened to a Filipino immigrant woman and an unemployed Italian man tell of their difficulties and a magistrate speak of "juvenile delinquency, desperation and death" in Naples.
The pope defended immigrants, saying they could not be considered "second-class human beings". He called for just wages for workers, and railed against corruption in public life.
"How much corruption there is in the world! I hope you have the courage ... to clean up the city and clean up society so that there is no longer that stink of corruption," he said.
Francis was speaking a day after Italy's transport minister, Maurizio Lupi, stepped down over a graft inquiry involving public works contracts. Lupi has denied any wrongdoing.
The pope also drew cheers from the crowd when he said "May the Madonna accompany you" in the Neapolitan dialect.
(Editing by Pravin Char)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2015 18:16:40 IST