Pope Francis seems to revel in bringing the Year of Mercy into some of the darkest corners of society.
When he was Auxiliary Bishop of Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio would spend hours in the slums of his hometown with those whom society had all but forgotten. There he became an advocate for prison reform. His 2015 visit to the notoriously dangerous Palmasola prison in Bolivia spoke to his fearless humility and genuine care for the incarcerated.
“You may be asking yourselves, ‘Who is this man standing before us?’” the pope said to prisoners there. “The man standing before you is a man who has experienced forgiveness. A man who was, and is, saved from his many sins." Afterward, the pope kissed some of the inmates.
He brought that humble spirit to the inmates at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in northeast Philadelphia during his historic US visit. “All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from,” the pope told the inmates.” The Good Shepherd is close at hand, though: “The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand.”
The pope, an opponent of the death penalty and lengthy prison sentences, thrilled inmates—not to mention advocates of prison reform—by bringing hope and humanity to this sometimes-forgotten corner of our culture.
The man who washes prisoners’ feet has never minced words about the length of some sentences, once saying, “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.” He advocates, rather, for healing and a return to society. He made this point strongly to the Philadelphia inmates, “The Lord tells us this clearly with a sign: He washes our feet so we can come back to the table. The table from which he wishes no one to be excluded. The table which is spread for all and to which all of us are invited.”
Indeed, his inspiration is from the words of Jesus himself, in Matthew 25:36: “For I was . . . in prison and you visited me.”
The following words are from Pope Francis himself.
Jesus did not come into the world to be in a parade…. He did not come for this. Jesus is the path and a path is for walking and following. We cannot follow Jesus on the path of love unless we first love others, unless we force ourselves to work together, to understand each other and to forgive each another, recognizing our own limits and mistakes. We must do works of mercy and with mercy! Putting our heart in them. Works of charity with love, with tenderness and always with humility! For the Good Shepherd what is far, what is on the margins, what is lost and unappreciated is the object of greater care and the Church cannot but make her own this special love and attention. The first in the Church are those who are the most in need, humanly, spiritually, materially, the neediest.
Looking at Jesus we see he chose the path of humility and service. Rather, he himself is this path. Jesus was not indecisive; he was not indifferent. He made a decision and followed it through until the end. He decided to become man and as a man to become a servant until his death on the Cross. This is the way of love, there is no other. Therefore we see that love is not simply social assistance and not in the least social assistance to reassure consciences. No, that is not love, that is business, those are transactions. Love is free. Charity, love is…a way of being, a way of life, it is a path of humility and of solidarity. There is no other way for this love: to be humble and in solidarity with others.
Mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are in prison. “But no Father, this is dangerous, those are bad people.” But each of us is capable…. Listen carefully to this: each of us is capable of doing the same thing that that man or that woman in prison did. All of us have the capacity to sin and to do the same, to make mistakes in life. They are no worse than you and me! Mercy overcomes every wall, every barrier, and leads you to always seek the face of the man, of the person. And it is mercy which changes the heart and the life, which can regenerate a person and allow him or her to integrate into society in a new way.