Speaking from a historical mafia stronghold on Sunday, the Holy Father raised his voice against evil and organized crime. He invited Sicilian families to instead take courage in the joy and strength found in the "big family" of the Church, a "sign and instrument of unity, peace and true liberty."
In addition to morning Mass, the Holy Father had two encounters on Sunday afternoon during his pastoral visit to Palermo, the capital city of the Italian island of Sicily and longtime hotspot of Mafia activity. Meeting first with priests, men and women religious and seminarians for Eucharistic adoration in the cathedral, he later went on to the city's Politeama Square for a celebration with young people and families, before returning to Rome.
In the cathedral, he emphasized the importance of prayer to the fulfilment of vocations, while to the throng of 30,000 gathered in and around Politeama Square, he reinforced the value of the family in life.
Observing during the latter occasion that it is the family that sows the first seeds that form one's perceptions of the meaning of life, he said that parents are the "first collaborators of God" in transmitting life and faith to their children.
This, he said, is seen in the lives of saints, and in "an exemplary and extraordinary way" in the family of the 18-year-old Chiara Badano, who was beatified last weekend in Rome. The activities of saintly people do not often make the news, he observed, "because evil makes more noise, but they are the force and the future of Sicily!"
The Pope referred then to Psalm 1 which compares a man that observes God's laws to a tree planted near a stream that produces fruit in season. He invited the young people of the island to "be the trees that sink their roots into the 'river' of good."
Benedict XVI told them, "(d)o not be afraid to oppose evil!"
"Together," he said, "you will be like a forest that grows, maybe in silence, but capable of yielding fruit, of bringing life and of renewing your land profoundly!"
In this context, he turned to an issue that touches the heart of Sicilian society, saying to those gathered and to the greater population of the island, "(d)o not give in to the suggestions of the Mafia, which is a road of death, incompatible with the Gospel ... "
Instead, he explained, a person needs "fertile soil" in which to grow, full of the "nutritional substances" of "values, but especially love and faith, consciousness of the true face of God, the knowledge that He loves us infinitely, faithfully, patiently, to the point of giving his life for us."
Explaining that the family as a "small church" must be inserted into the family of God in the "big Church," he said that this is seen in the lives of saints, for whom "together with the family of origin, the big family of the Church is fundamental."
And, this, he concluded, is "the biggest gift we have received: being a Church, being in Christ a sign and instrument of unity, peace and true liberty. No one can take this joy from us! No one can take this strength from us.
"Take courage, dear young people and families of Sicily!" he told them. "Be saints!"