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Pope heads into mafia territory on Naples visit

The bishop of Rome has embarked on a visit to an Italian city rattled by organized crime. Concerns for the pontiff's safety in Naples were paramount after he excommunicated mafia members last year.

After visiting the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, tens of thousands of people greeted Pope Francis on Saturday as he headed into the stronghold of the Camorra, the local mafia. Amid tight security, the pontiff is set to visit prisoners, the needy and young people.

Francis arrived in the poor, dangerous Scampia neighborhood in a popemobile and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of children and young people, two of whom managed to snap a selfie with the pope.

"Corruption stinks, corrupt society stinks," he told the Neapolitans. "We all have the potential to be corrupt and to slip into criminality." Last year, the pope declared that that the mafia embodied "the adoration of evil" and excommunicated all unrepentant mafia members.

Scampia is infamous as the site of a turf war between different clans of the Camorra, as described in the bestselling book and TV series "Gomorrah.

"See to it that evil is not the last word. It has to be hope," Francis told the crowd of several thousand.

Local authorities expected up to 800,000 to come out to see the pope throughout his one-day visit, which will include a Mass in the historic Piazza del Plesbiscito and a visit to the overcrowded Poggio Reale prison, which holds 2,500 in a facility built for 1,400.

He will have lunch with 90 of the inmates, including transsexuals, homosexuals, and AIDS sufferers, according to Catholic television channel TV2000. The pontiff will wrap up his visit with a seafront concert of Neapolitan songs performed by local children.

Safety concerns

Heightening security surrounded the pope, as he earned the ire of organized crime with his fiery statements last year. On top of possible grudges from gangsters, the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group threatened Francis following his condemnation of their brutal actions in Syria and Iraq.

With any trip outside the Vatican is treated as a possible assassination threat, 3,000 extra policemen were deployed throughout Naples on Saturday. This includes snipers on rooftops along the route of the pope's visit.

es/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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