2013-07-27 08:51:03

Pope Francis meets with young prisoners

(Vatican Radio) Before praying the Angelus on Friday at the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro’s residence, Pope Francis had brief private encounter with eight young prison inmates from different jails in the city.
“The pope had strong words of encouragement for each one,” said Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office. He was present at the meeting.
Our Correspondent in Rio, Seàn-Patrick Lovett followed the event and sends this report.
I wasn’t there so I can’t tell you what I saw – but I can tell you what I heard from those who were…at Pope Francis’ encounter with young prisoners, that is. There are no images of the encounter because all the young prisoners are minors. So you (like me) will have to use a bit of imagination if you really want to appreciate what it looked and felt like. The facts are these: there were 8 of them (6 boys and 2 girls) and they came from four prisons in the Rio de Janeiro area. That’s it. We don’t know who they are, how old they are, or why they are in prison. What we do know is that they represent a category of person particularly close to Pope Francis’ heart. So much so that he has confided how, every two weeks, he personally calls a group of former prisoners he worked with in Argentina. And, of course, the pictures of him washing the feet of young prisoners in Rome’s juvenile prison on Holy Thursday, are still fresh in our minds.
The idea of meeting with prisoners here in Rio was his own. The fact of them being young simply reinforced the WYD connection. They were brought to the Archbishop’s house around 11.30am and the Pope was waiting for them. One of the girls was weighed down by the dozens of rosaries she was carrying around her neck for the Pope to bless – all of them gifts for her friends back in prison. This was the girl who read the Pope a letter from these same cellmates and sang him a song she herself had composed. Pope Francis chatted to each of the young people in turn (the word he used most often was “courage”) and urged them to “look to the future”. He blessed their religious articles and signed their photographs of him. Their gift to him was a gigantic rosary they’d made using polystyrene. It wasn’t the object in itself so much as the symbolism behind it that made it precious and significant. The key lay in the cross which was inscribed with the words: “Candelària nunca màs” – “Candelària never again”. The reference is to the infamous murder of eight young people between the ages of 11 and 20 almost exactly twenty years ago, on the night of July 23rd 1993, as they slept in front of the church of the Candelària. They were all street children, “meninos de rua”, and they were killed by the death squads. The beads of the rosary bore their names.
Accompanying the young prisoners was the prison chaplain and a magistrate who has been following their cases. According to him, they will shortly receive “good news” in the form of some sort of reprieve or reduction of sentence. Perhaps they will be able to “look to the future…with courage” after all.

Listen to Sean’s report, followed by his interview with Father Lombardi about the meeting: RealAudioMP3

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