, Vatican City, Vatican City State, Nov 6 – Pope Francis on Sunday celebrated Mass before a thousand prisoners specially invited to the Vatican, giving them a message of hope while denouncing the “hypocrisy” of society.
The event was also attended by 3,000 others including prison staff and volunteers and without any visible police presence.
The Argentine pontiff regularly meets prisoners — both in Italy and on his trips abroad — but this is the first time so many inmates have been received at the Vatican.
The pontiff, recalling his visits to jail, said: “Every time I enter a prison, I ask the question ‘why them and not me?’, we all can make mistakes.”
The prisoners came from jails in Italy and Spain but 12 countries were represented including Britain, Mexico, South Africa.
The pontiff exhorted them never to lose hope.
“Hope is a gift of God,” he said. “Certainly, breaking the law involves paying the price, and losing one’s freedom is the worst part of serving time, because it affects us so deeply. All the same, hope must not falter.”
He said that incarceration was not the only means to set people back on the right path.
“Sometimes, a certain hypocrisy leads to people considering you only as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer,” he said.
“We don’t think about the possibility that people can change their lives; we put little trust in rehabilitation. But in this way we forget that we are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners… locked up within our own prejudices or enslaved to the idols of a false sense of well-being.”
One prisoner serving a life term spoke during the mass, one hand on the shoulder of the mother of a 15-year-old boy named Andrea whom he killed.
“I’m a lifer, in jail for the last 25 years,” said the man who is serving his sentence at a high security prison near Milan.
His victim’s mother, Elisabetta, met her son’s killer through a programme to put perpetrators and victims in touch.
Before getting to know him she recalled that she had “feelings of horror and rage towards those who took the life of my young son”.
In March, on his first prison leave in 24 years, the prisoner visited Andrea’s grave along with Elisabetta.