CASSANO ALL’JONIO, Italy (AP) — Pope Francis offered words of sympathy Saturday to the imprisoned father of a slain toddler during a visit to prison to a southern Italian region infested by one of the world’s most powerful crime syndicates.

Local organizers of the pope’s one-day pilgrimage to Calabria said the pontiff first spoke to some 200 men and women held in the prison in the town of Castrovillari.

He then spoke separately with the father and two grandmothers of Coco’ Campolongo. The 3-year-old boy was shot, along with one of his grandfathers and the grandfather’s companion, in an attack in January blamed on drug turf wars in the nearby town of Cassano all’Jonio. The father was in prison at the time.

The attackers then torched the car with the three victims inside. The crime was so horrific that the pope shortly afterward expressed his dismay during public remarks and promised to visit the town.

Francis’ remarks to the boy’s relatives were private. The Vatican didn’t immediately give any details.

Calabria is the power base of the ‘ndrangheta, a global drug trafficking syndicate that also enriches itself through systemic extortion of local businesses and infiltration of public works contracts in underdeveloped Calabria.

During his trip, Francis also comforted residents in a hospice. One of the doctors, at the pope’s request, removed a bothersome wooden splinter from one his fingers, local organizers said.

The 77-year-old pope appeared to be holding up well during the hectic trip despite a scorching sun. The main public event was an outdoor Mass in late afternoon.

The Vatican said Francis, who has put those on the edges of society at the heart of his papacy, lunched with poor people and drug addicts in a rehabilitation facility.