Vatican City, 21 June 2014 (VIS) – Pope Francis began his pastoral visit to Cassano all'Jonio by meeting the detainees at the Castrovillari penitentiary. He expressed the closeness of the Church to every man and woman in jail all over the world, and reminded them of Jesus' words: “I was in prison and you came to me”.
The Pope arrived by Vatican helicopter at Castrovillari at 9 a.m., and walked the short distance to the prison where he was received by the director, Fedele Rizzo, and after listening to a short address one of the detainees on the forecourt outside the prison, he gave the following discourse:
“When we talk about prisoners, we often underline the theme of respect for the fundamental rights of man and the need for the conditions in which the sentence is served to correspond. This aspect of prison policy is certainly essential and a high level of attention must be maintained in this respect. But this approach is not sufficient, if it is not accompanied and completed by concrete commitment by institutions with a view to the effective reinsertion within society. When this objective is neglected, the fulfilment of the sentence is reduced to a mere instrument of punishment and social retaliation, damaging to both the individual and to society. And God does not do this, with us. God, when He forgives, accompanies us and helps us along the road. Always, and even in small things. When we go to confess, the Lord says to us, 'I forgive you. But now, come with me'. And He helps us to return to the path. He never condemns. He never forgives alone; He forgives and accompanies. And then, we are fragile and have to return to confession again, all of us. But He never tires. He always takes us by the hand again. This is God's love, and we must imitate Him! Society must imitate Him, and take this path”.
“On the other hand, the true and full rehabilitation of the person does not occur as the end point of a merely human progression. In this path there is also the encounter with God, the capacity to allow ourselves to be looked upon by God, Who loves us. It is more difficult to place ourselves before God's gaze than to look at God. It is more difficult to let ourselves be met by God than it is to meet God, because there is always resistance within us. And He waits for us, He watches us, He always seeks us. This God, Who loves us, Who is able to understand us, able to forgive our mistakes. The Lord is a master of rehabilitation: He takes us by the hand and restores us to the social community. The Lord always forgives, He always accompanies, He always understands; we must let ourselves be understood, forgiven, and accompanied”.
“I hope that for every one of you here, this time will not be wasted, but that it can instead become valuable time during which you may ask for and obtain this grace from God. In this way, first of all you will contribute to improving yourselves, but at the same time also the community, as, for better and worse, our actions influence others and the whole of the human family”.
“I convey my affectionate greetings to your families; may the Lord grant you the possibility to embrace them again in serenity and peace. Finally, I wish to offer encouragement to all those who work in this house: the directors, the police guards, and all other staff. I impart a heartfelt blessing to you all, and entrust you to the protection of Our Lady, our Mother. And please, I ask you to pray for me, because I to make my errors and must do penance. Thank you”.