NAPLES — In a span of one morning on Saturday, Pope Francis blasted “the stink of corruption” and the “failures, delays, and omissions of bad politics,” urged the world to treat migrants as “equal citizens,” denounced underpaid labor as “slavery,” and blamed unemployment for increased delinquency.
He also addressed the Italian Mafia and its accomplices, inviting them to repent, and called on residents to react decisively against illegal organizations that use the drug trade to exploit and corrupt the young, the poor, and the weak.
“A corrupt society stinks like a rotting corpse,” Francis said in Scampia, a Mafia-infested neighborhood in the southern Italian city of Naples. “And a Christian that becomes corrupt isn’t Christian, [he] stinks!”
The pope’s mostly improvised comments on corruption came as he began a nine-hour rally through Naples, a southern Italian city notorious as the home of some of the country’s most infamous crime syndicates.
In welcoming Francis, Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe said the pope made the trip because “when children call, a father comes.”
While admitting that life in the city, one of Europe’s most densely populated metropolitan areas, has never been easy, Francis said, it’s never been sad, either.
“Your joy is a treasure,” Francis said.
Addressing the high crime rate, the pope said that “whoever chooses the path of evil robs himself and others of hope,” and that although evil can steal even “a piece of hope,” it never has the last word.
“All of us have the opportunity to be corrupted,” Francis said, adding that no one can say with certainty “I’ll never be corrupt.”
According to the pontiff, it’s easy to be tempted to “exploit and enslave” others by having them work 11 hours a day for $650 a month, to pay employees “under the table,” and to rob others of the dignity of putting bread on the table.
Answering a Filipino who asked the pope “in the name of so many migrants who don’t have a set place to live,” for words that would make them feel important and proud that he looks upon them so favorably, Francis said that migrants shouldn’t be treated as second-class humans, but as full citizen.
“We’re all God’s children,” the pontiff said, and, pointing to the sky, he added, “We’re all migrants, going to another nation. Hopefully, we’ll all get there, without leaving anyone behind!”
Talking to politicians in Pope John Paul II Square on the outskirts of Naples, Francis said the community can’t progress without their support, especially in times of crisis.
“Good politics is a service to people, which is firstly exercised at the local level, where the weight of failures, delays, and omissions is more direct and hurts deeply,” Francis said. “Good politics is one of the highest expressions of charity, service, and love.”
Referring to the beginning of springtime “that brings hope,” the pope said it’s also a time of redemption for Naples.
“The authorities, institutions, various social realities, and citizens, united and in accord, can build a better future,” Francis said.
After that stop, Francis headed to the Piazza del Plesbiscito, where he celebrated an open-air Mass. During his homily, he asked the faithful not to allow youth to be corrupted by drug traffickers and thugs.
“Humbly, with a brotherly heart, I ask you [criminals] to convert to love and justice,” Francis improvised. “Allow yourselves to be found by God’s mercy!”
Addressing the mothers present in the square, the pontiff asked them to do their best to keep their children away from crime.
In a city marred by corruption, criminal activity, drug dealing, and youth unemployment rates that reach 40 percent, Francis said that “having hope is resisting evil, placing all bets on God’s mercy.”
At noon, Francis visited the detention Center “Guiseppe Salvia,” where he was welcomed by 1,900 inmates, shook hands with 300, and had lunch (meat and potatoes) with 90 of them, including some from the pavilion for transsexual, gay, and HIV-positive prisoners.
For lack of time, Francis didn’t deliver his speech to the inmates, but copies of it were distributed so they could read it. In improvised remarks, he told them that “being here, among you, I discover God.”
In the printed text, the pontiff said he knew of their suffering through the many letters he receives from prisoners from all over the world.
“Many times, prisoners are being held in conditions that are unworthy for the human person, and after [imprisonment] they fail to reintegrate into society,” the pope said.
He also thanked the executives, priests, educators, and pastoral workers who “know how to be close to the prisoners,” turning a place of marginalization into a place that moves society toward a more inclusive stance.
“There are some positive experiences of reintegration,” Francis said, calling for further efforts that have in their founding grounds the knowledge that “love always transforms a person.”
Before his return to Rome, Francis was scheduled to meet clergy and religious of the city, the sick, and young people.
Francis arrived in Naples after paying a 15-minute visit to the nearby city of Pompeii, where together with 700 people belonging to what the Argentinian pontiff calls “the outskirts of society” (the unemployed, disabled, migrants), he prayed in the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary.
One of the pope’s final appearances came in Naples’ cathedral, where Francis gave a blessing with the relics of St. Januarius, the city’s patron saint. Januarius is famous for the annual liquefaction of a small amount of his blood, contained within a relic, a phenomenon that dates to at least the 14th century and is believed to happen three times a year.
When Francis held the small vessel on Saturday, the blood appeared to liquefy, something considered miraculous by those on hand.
According to Sepe, this was the first time the liquefaction had happened in the presence of a pope.
The pontiff used to opportunity to demand more from the clergy and religious on hand, saying the fact that it was only a partial liquefaction meant “the saint expects more from us!”