Victims of human trafficking and migrants smuggled across borders by criminal networks are the weakest of the weak and need increased protection and care, Pope Francis said.
"All those who flee their own country because of war, violence and persecution have the right to find an appropriate welcome and adequate protection in countries that describe themselves (as) civilized," he said.
The pope made his remarks during an audience on Jan. 23 with about 40 representatives from Italy's national anti-mafia and anti-terrorism office.
He thanked them for their difficult and dangerous work and encouraged them to continue their "extremely essential" efforts in liberating people from criminal associations that are responsible for violence and an abuse of power "stained with human blood."
Communities need to be saved from "corruption, extortion, the illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons, the trafficking of human beings, including so many children who are reduced to slavery," he said.
Terrorist and criminal networks are a global challenge that require a global, effective and determined response, Pope Francis said.
The pope urged them to work especially hard in "fighting human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants. These are very grave crimes that hit the weakest of the weak."
As such, "it is necessary to increase efforts in safeguarding victims, providing for legal and social assistance for these brothers and sisters of ours seeking peace and a future," he said.
The pope called on schools, sports, families, Christian parishes and organizations and cultural associations to do more in shaping the moral conscience and building respect for the law in the minds of today's young people.
Pope Francis asked that everyone involved in various mafia organizations stop the harm they are causing and change their ways.
Money made from their "dirty business" and crimes is money that is soaked in blood and leads to "unjust power," he said. "We all know that the devil comes in through the pocket," he added.
Mafioso activities and mindsets need to be fought because they are part of "the culture of death," he said. They have nothing to do with the Christian faith, which always supports life.