Pope Francis meets with the directors and staff of Rome’s Regina Coeli prison, telling them that prison, with the help of its staff, can truly become a place of redemption.
By Lydia O’Kane
On Holy Thursday last year Pope Francis paid a visit to Rome’s Regina Coeli prison to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with inmates and staff. Nearly a year on the directors and staff of the prison were greeted by the Pope on Thursday in the Paul VI Hall. Addressing the 600 people present, Pope Francis spoke of jail as being a place of punishment and suffering, adding that, “it needs much attention and humanity.”
In prison he said, “everyone, penitentiary police, chaplains, educators and volunteers, are called to the difficult task of healing the wounds of those who, through mistakes made, find themselves deprived of their personal freedom.”
Prisons, the Pope observed, “need to be increasingly humanized, and it is painful to hear that they are often considered to be places of violence and illegality, where human wickedness is rampant.”
Pope Francis also commented that many prisoners who are in jail are poor; they have no references, he said, “no security, no family, no means to defend their rights, they are marginalized and abandoned to their fate. For society they are uncomfortable individuals, a waste, a burden.”
Turning his attention to prison staff, the Pontiff noted that their jobs could be stressful and frustrating due to shortages of personnel and chronic overcrowding.
“Work-related stress caused by pressing shifts and often the distance from families are factors that weigh down a job that already involves a certain psychological effort”, the Pope said. “Therefore, professional figures like you need a personal balance and valid motivations constantly renewed.”
Prison a place of redemption
Experience shows, Pope Francis underlined, “that prison, with the help of prison workers, can truly become a place of redemption, resurrection and a change of life, and all this is possible through paths of faith, work and professional training, but especially of spiritual closeness and compassion…”
By following the example of the Good Samaritan, who cared for his wounded brother, he stressed, “this attitude of closeness, rooted in the love of Christ, can foster trust, awareness and the certainty of being loved in many inmates.”
In conclusion, the Pope encouraged those present to do their important work in the spirit of harmony and unity. “You are called to march in one direction”, he said “to help stand up and grow in hope for those who have unfortunately fallen into the trap of evil.”