By Cian Molloy - 07 November, 2016
More than 1,000 serving prisoners were released from custody on Sunday to celebrate Mass with the Pope in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
The event was part of a Jubilee for Prisoners organised by the Holy Father. Pope Francis has regularly visited prison inmates in their place of detention, but this was the first time that so many were released from prison to be with him and to join in a celebration of the Eucharist.
Most of the inmates who attended St Peter’s came from Italian prisons, but many of them were non-Italian nationals. Additionally, according to the Vatican, there were ‘delegations’ of prisoners from ten other countries.
The total congregation numbered some 3,000 people, as the faithful also included prison chaplains, guards, ex-prisoners and the families of prisoners. It is said that two of those present were Mafiosi, who normally live in solitary confinement because of their convictions for serious organised crime.
In his homily, the Pope told the prisoners to never give up hope, while also calling on society to put more trust in rehabilitation, improved jail conditions and greater clemency. He called on political leaders to offer prisoners amnesties where possible and to work to abolish the death penalty.
Pope Francis said: “Let me tell you, every time I go into a prison I ask myself, ‘Why them and not me?’ Everyone has the possibility to make mistakes, everyone. All of us have made mistakes.
“But there’s a certain hypocrisy where we don’t think about the possibility that people can change their lives. We put little trust in rehabilitation, in the reintegration into society.
“Hope is a gift of God. 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.”
During Sunday Angelus prayers, the Pope also spoke about the plight of prisoners, saying: “you’re never going to rehabilitate somebody by making them live in squalor, that’s not going to work.”