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Pope to visit mafia heartland, hometown of slain toddler

Published on Jun 19, 2014 9:59 AM
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis will travel for the first time on Saturday to the mafia heartland of Calabria, to spend a day in the hometown of a toddler who was murdered in a clan drug war.

His tightly packed schedule in one of the poorest regions of Italy will see the pontiff visit a prison, hospital and care home in and around Cassano allo Jonio before celebrating mass with an expected 100,000 pilgrims.

The pope will likely speak out about two of the region's biggest challenges: towering youth unemployment and the pervasive grip of the powerful and secretive 'Ndrangheta crime group.

Unemployment among the under-25s in the region stands at 56.1 per cent - the highest in Italy in 2013, according to Eurostat - and local mobsters thrive by offering idle youngsters work, luring them into their networks.

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