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Pope to prisoners: “I was in prison and you visited me.”

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Christ identifies Himself with prisoners. He was not only once a prisoner, at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemani. He is a prisoner to this day: imprisoned sacramentally by a Divine Love that yearns to be visited in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and spiritually also, in the souls of those who suffer, especially unjustly or needlessly, in prisons of various sorts: not least the prison of sin in the heart.

Here is what the Holy Father has to say about justice and mercy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

VATICAN CITY, 18 DEC 2011 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father made a pastoral visit to the prison of Rebbiba in northern Rome. On his arrival he was welcomed by Paola Severino, minister of justice; Franco Ionta, head of the prison administration department, and Fr. Pier Sandro Spriano and Fr. Roberto Guarnieri, prison chaplains.

The Holy Father met the prisoners in the institute’s central church, dedicated to Our Father. Excerpts from his remarks to them are given below.

“‘I was in prison and you visited me’. These are the words of the Final Judgment according to Matthew the Evangelist, the Lord’s words in which He identifies Himself with those in prison, words which fully express the significance of my visit to you today. Wherever someone is hungry, a stranger, sick or in prison, there is Christ Himself Who awaits our visit and our assistance. … The Church has always considered visiting the imprisoned as one of the corporal acts of mercy, but this, in order to be complete, means fully accepting the prisoner, ‘making space for him in our time, in our home, in our friendships, in our laws, in our cities’. … The Only-begotten Son of God, the Lord Jesus, also experienced jail. He was judged before a tribunal and suffered a ferocious death sentence.

“During my recent apostolic trip to Benin last month, I signed a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation in which I underlined the Church’s concern for justice in States. I wrote: ‘Independent judiciary and prison systems are urgently needed, therefore, for the restoration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders. It is time to put a stop to miscarriages of justice and ill-treatment of prisoners, and the widespread non-enforcement of the law … which represents a violation of human rights, as well as imprisonment either without trial or else with much-delayed trial. The Church in Africa … recognises her prophetic mission towards all those affected by crime and their need for reconciliation, justice and peace. Prisoners are human persons who, despite their crime, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. They need our care”.

Justice is inseparable from mercy

“Human justice and divine justice are very different. Men are not, of course, capable of applying divine justice, but they must at least … seek to understand the spirit that moves it, in order to illuminate human justice and to ensure that prisoners do not become outcasts, as unfortunately they often do. God, in fact, is He Who strongly proclaims justice, but at the same time heals wounds with the balm of mercy”.

“Justice and mercy, justice and charity are cardinal points of Church social doctrine. They differ only for we human beings, as we carefully distinguish between an act of justice and an act of love. … But this is not true of God. In Him justice and charity coincide; there is no act of justice that is not also an act of mercy and forgiveness while, at the same time, there is no act of mercy that is not perfectly just”.

“The penitential system has two main points, both of them important: protecting society from possible threats, and rehabilitating those who have erred without trampling on their dignity or excluding them from social life. Both of these aspects … are aimed at avoiding that ‘chasm’ between what life in jail is really like and how it was intended by the law, which gives fundamental importance to the re-educational function of punishment and to respecting the rights and dignity of persons”.

Overcrowding and degradation make prison sentences worse

“I know that overcrowding and the dilapidation of jails can make detention even worse. … Public institutions must carefully analyse the situation in prisons today, monitoring structures, resources and staff so that prisoners do not serve a ‘double sentence’. It is important to develop the prison system in such a way that, while respecting justice, it is increasingly adapted to the needs of human beings, also by using non-custodial penalties or different forms of custody”.

“Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. May the Lord’s Nativity, which is now drawing near, reawaken hope and love in your hearts. The birth of the Lord Jesus, which we will celebrate in a few days’ time, reminds us of His mission to save all mankind, excluding no one. … Let us ask Him … to free everyone from the prison of sin, arrogance and pride. Each of us, in fact, has need to leave this inner prison in order to be truly free from evil, anguish and death”.

“I would like to conclude by saying that the Church supports and encourages all efforts to ensure that everyone lives a dignified life. Be sure that I am close to each of you. … May the Lord bless you and your future”.
PV-REBBIBIA/ VIS 20111219 (810)

Published by VISarchive 02 – Monday, December 19, 2011

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