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Pope Francis announced in a letter to the northern regions of Italy that this Good Friday’s mediations for the Way of the Cross, usually led by the pope in the Colosseum, were written by prisoners from the Due Palazzi penitentiary in Padua.
Good Friday is April 10 and public Masses in Rome have already been suspended until April 3, so the progression of the coronavirus will likely determine if the pope is able to have the traditional ceremony in the Colosseum.
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Pope Francis said he wanted the meditations to be “a choral work,” with contributions from all “the various faces” of the world of prisons: victims, prisoners, guards, volunteers, families, judges, teachers, the Church, innocent people who at times are unjustly accused.”
Prison, the pope said, “is a kaleidoscope of situations,” where there is a risk of focusing on a single detail, to the detriment of the whole. “The resurrection of a person is never the work of an individual, but of the community working together.”
The Holy Father has made prison ministry a characteristic of his pontificate, as he has spent several years celebrating the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a prison.
In an interview in 2017, he explained something of what has motivated this choice: the example of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, who died in 1998.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II appointed the cardinal as Secretary of State, following his many years working in the Vatican and in Vatican diplomacy.
“The example of Agostino Casaroli taught me a lot,” Francis explained in the interview. “He died in 1998, after having been a cardinal and Secretary of State. As a priest, he carried out his ministry for years in the juvenile prison of Casal del Marmo.”
Francis continued: “Every Saturday night, he would disappear. ‘He’s resting,’ people would say. He arrived [to the prison] by bus, with his briefcase, and he stayed there to hear the young people’s confessions and to play with them. They called him Don Agostino — nobody knew who he was.”
In addition, the Holy Father has added his voice to that of his predecessors in opposing the death penalty, and even speaking out against life sentences, saying that they are “penalties without hope” and thus useless for rehabilitation.
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Pope Francis said he was “moved” when he read the meditations that the prisoners and those associated with the prison had prepared: “I felt very much involved in this story, I felt like a brother who has made mistakes, and like those who agree to stand beside them to resume the ascent.”
Balancing mercy and justice, he continued, is not easy; but when that balance is achieved, all of society gains by it.
Pope Francis thanked the “parish of the prison,” and all who work in the area of corrections, saying, “God bless the good heart of those who challenge indifference with tenderness.”
Do you think of prisons like this? Check out the pope’s surprisingly hopeful outlook