In the first major meeting of his 12-hour pastoral visit to the Calabria region of southern Italy today, Pope Francis spoke to the inmates and staff of the district prison about the importance of re-integration, accomplished through both human and divine action.
“A true and full reintegration of the person does not happen as the end of a solely human path. On this journey, the meeting with God also comes into it, the capacity to let ourselves be seen by the God who loves us, who is able to understand us and forgive us our sins,” Pope Francis told the staff and inmates of the “Casa Circondariale di Castrovillari” prison in Calabria, Italy on June 21.
“The Lord is a master of reintegration: he takes us by the hand and brings us back into the community,” he assured them.
Human rights must always be respected, particularly for those in prison, the Pope urged. Yet there also should be real efforts towards “effective reintegration into society.”
If this end is lost, the sentence becomes only an “instrument of punishment and social retaliation, at times damaging to the individual and society.
Pope Francis also took the opportunity of his visit to the prison to denounce the crime-related violence in the region.
“Never any more violence against children. May it never happen again that a little one must undergo these sufferings,” he said, referencing the death of 3 year old Coco Campolongo last January. The little boy was shot and killed alongside his grandfather, and their bodies burned – victims of the Ndrangheta crime syndicate in the Calabria region.
Coco’s father, an inmate at the prison, was at today’s encounter with Pope Francis. “I pray for him continually, do not despair,” Pope Francis assured him.
In his speech, Pope Francis also noted that accepting the love of God is not always easy. “It is more difficult to allow ourselves to be looked upon by God than to look upon God. It is more difficult to allow ourselves to be encountered by God than to encounter God.”
Yet God “always forgives, always accompanies, always understands.”
The Pope underscored the importance of frequenting the sacrament of confession, because “we are fragile.”
He encouraged those present to make their incarceration “a precious time” during which they could “seek and obtain” the grace of God.
Pope Francis concluded by asking for Mary’s intercession on the inmates and their families, that God may give them “serenity and peace.”