In a visit to a Philadelphia prison, Pope Francis encouraged inmates to turn to Jesus in their quest to get “back on the right road.”
The pope spent more than an hour Sunday at the maximum-security Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, where he spoke to about 100 men and women gathered in the prison gym.
He acknowledged that they are going through a “painful time” for themselves and their families, and said the Gospel offers lessons on rehabilitation and redemption.
“Jesus seeks us out. He wants to heal our wounds,” the pope said. “He doesn’t ask us where we have been, he doesn’t question us about what we have done.”
“He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust,” he said.
Pope Francis has made a habit of visiting prisoners, in Rome and around the world, and has twice washed the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday. It is part of his pastoral strategy of “going to the margins” of society.
Earlier in his trip, he called for global abolition of the death penalty, saying punishment for crimes should always carry the hope for rehabilitation.
In the Philadelphia prison, he sat on a walnut chair that was hand-crafted by inmates at the Philadelphia prison. He alluded to the issue of prison reform, which has been a concern of U.S. bishops.
“It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society,” he said.
The prisoners’ eventual rehabilitation is something that raises the morale of the entire community, he said.
Then the pope spent a half hour shaking the hands of each prisoner, chatting with them briefly. Some of them passed him notes. They each received rosaries, which the pope blessed before he left.
John Thavis is a journalist, author and speaker specializing in Vatican and religious affairs. He is a contributor to the NET TV coverage of Pope Francis’ Visit to the United States.