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article image'Beware of gangs' pope tells Salvadoran youth

By Oscar Batres (AFP)     Sep 4, 2014 in World

Pope Francis on Thursday warned adolescents in El Salvador to "beware of gangs" during a videoconference with youth in the violence-wracked country.

Speaking to a 15-year-old boy and dozens of his classmates in the town of Soyapango outside San Salvador, the pope urged the youngsters to steer clear of the violent groups which are plaguing the Central American nation.

Francis told Gerardo Ernesto Mancia and some 30 of his school mates to instead focus on their studies, sports and to cultivate an interest in culture.

"Be very careful when there are groups that seek out destruction, who search for war, who don't know how to work on a team," the pope told the youngsters, warning in particular that they should "beware of gangs."

Extortion, murder and rape are rampant in El Salvador, where 1,910 homicides -- mostly committed by gangs -- occurred between January 1 and July 6 according to official figures.

The Gerardo and his classmates spoke with the pope for a minute and half via a laptop installed in their school.

The teen, overcome with emotion, managed to tell the pope "thank you" before the conversation ended.

Talking with the pontiff was "something extraordinary," said the youth, who said he hopes to work in the hotel industry.

The video chat was organized by the Futbol Forever foundation whose Argentine director, Alejandro Gutman, recently met the pope and explained the initiative.

In El Salvador, the organization works with 4,000 youth in Soyapango and Tonacatepeque public schools, encouraging students to turn to safe pastimes like soccer rather than violence.

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