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Francis invites 1,000 convicted criminals to Vatican to celebrate special Mass

06 November 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

Pope tells congregation at the Sunday Angelus, which includes two Mafiosi: 'We all make mistakes'

Pope Francis today appealed for better living conditions for prisoners after he welcomed 1,000 inmates into St Peter’s basilica. Speaking at the Sunday Angelus, the Pope urged prison authorities to respect "the human dignity of detainees" and stressed the criminal justice system must include rehabilitation alongside punishment. 

“I submit for the consideration of the competent civilian authorities in all countries the opportunity to make, in this Holy Year of Mercy, an act of clemency towards those prisoners who will be considered eligible to benefit from this measure,” Francis said. 

Earlier, during a special Mass for the jubilee of mercy year in St Peter’s, the Pope urged prisoners not to lose hope in God’s mercy saying all people “have made mistakes”.

“Sometimes, a certain hypocrisy leads to people considering you only as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer,” Francis explained during his homily. “I want to tell you, every time I visit a prison I ask myself: 'Why them and not me?'. We can all make mistakes: all of us. And in one way or another we have made mistakes.”

The Pope delivered his homily before a congregation made up of around 1,000 prisoners from 12 countries and their families, as well as prison chaplains and volunteers: it is one of the last major set-piece events of the jubilee year which concludes on 20 November.

The Vatican said that most of the 1,000 prisoners who took part in the mass were from Italian prisons and many of these were foreign born inmates. There were also delegations from about 10 other countries, a Vatican spokesman confirmed.

Among the 3,000 chaplains, guards, ex-prisoners and family members who came to the Vatican for the day dedicated to prisoners were two prisoners normally confined to solitary confinement after being convicted of crimes associated with membership of the Mafia. 

Francis has shown concern for those living behind bars by making visits to prisons, calling for penal reform including the abolishment of the death penalty and telephoning inmates he used to visit in Buenos Aires. 

Before he arrived in the basilica this morning several convicted of crimes gave personal testimonies as did a woman whose son had been murdered. She described how she had tried to liberate herself from hatred by becoming friends with prisoners, including the man who killed her son. 

"I learned that we are two sides of the same medal — pain," said the woman, introduced only by her first name, Elisabetta. Her son's murderer stood by her side, recalling how when he was given 12 hours of freedom it was Elisabetta who came to spend the hours with him, taking him to her son's grave, where he placed flowers.

During his homily the Pope emphasised the need for rehabilitation and that no-one is beyond the mercy of God. “Hypocrisy leads us to overlook the possibility that people can change their lives; we put little trust in rehabilitation, rehabilitation into society. But in this way we forget that we are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners.”



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