Francis’ meeting with young offenders in Rio was deeply emotional
Bergoglio speaks to a group of young offenders on the telephone once a fortnight and on Holy Thursday he visited Casal del Marmo prison in Rome to celebrate mass with the young offenders detained there. This World Youth Day then would not have been complete without a visit to young offenders who live behind bars. Francis recalled the passage in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel where he says: “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Francis arrived at the archbishop’s palace in Rio de Janeiro at 11 am and spent over half an hour talking to eight young offenders – six boys and two girls – all from different detention centres across the State of Rio The young people were told they had a nice surprise to look forward to next week, probably an act of clemency. The atmosphere was calm and relaxed and the young offenders could express themselves freely. One of the girls, the youngest member of the group “was very expressive and talkative.
She had a lot to say and was visibly moved.” The boys sat by the Pope one by one and asked the Pope to bless some objects. Francis also gave a signed photo of himself to each of the prisoners. The girl sang a song she had written for the Pope, “which was full of affection for him and his service. Then she read out a long letter written on behalf of all her fellow inmates.” One truly beautiful moment, Lombardi went on to say, was when “they brought the Pope a sack containing a big rosary with a cross and great big polistyrene balls.
The cross bore the inscription: “Candelaria nunca mais” (Candelaria never again), in reference to the massacre which took place on the night of 23 July 1993 in the Rio detention centre. More than 60 young homeless people wandered round the city’s streets and gathered around Candelora Church to sleep. Eight of them were killed by policemen on that fateful night.
Each of the balls on the home-made rosary had the names of each of the young people killed. “No more violence, just love,” Francis said, before asking the young people to say the Our Father and pray for all young people who fall victim to violence. Francis did not make a speech but asked the young people a number of times to pray for him because he needs their prayers.
“I got the impression it was a very emotional meeting for the Pope too,” Lombardi said. Francis clearly “believes that young prisoners and young people in difficult situations cannot be excluded from World Youth Day.”