Italy's main crime organisations find "fertile ground" in the country's underdeveloped south, where they nurture their "deplorable projects", Pope Francis said on Monday.
"The Sicilian mafia, the (Naples) Camorra and the (Calabrian) 'Ndrangheta...they exploit economic hardship and social and political ills to find fertile ground for their deplorable projects," Francis stated.
He was addressing an audience at the Vatican attended by anti-mafia prosecutors and members of Italy's national anti-mafia directorate.
During the audience, Francis thanked participants "for your difficult and dangerous work".
"It is essential to liberate Italy from powerful criminal organisations responsible for violence and oppression that is stained by human blood," Francis said.
Schools, families, schools, parishes and sports organisations also have a crucial role to play in imparting "a conscience of morality and the rule of law" young people and steering them away from the mafia, he said.