Inmates of a Rome prison met with Pope Francis Monday morning at the Vatican, before making a visit to the Vatican Museums.
The group of around 20 prisoners met Pope Francis shortly before 9 a.m. on June 21, at his Casa Santa Marta residence, the Vatican said.
They were accompanied by the prison director, chaplain, and officials. Afterward, they went to the Vatican Museums, which reopened to visitors on May 3.
The men who met Pope Francis are inmates of a low-security prison, part of the Rebibbia complex located in Rome’s east suburb. The prison caters to those with addictive disorders and includes a treatment center and program for inmates with substance dependence.
The prison, which can hold 163, currently has 70 inmates.
In March last year, at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, the Italian government prohibited visits to inmates.
Some inmates at the Rebibbia prison complex rioted in protest of the decision, and the prison’s chaplain said that fear about the virus contributed to the tense situation.
In other places in Italy, prisoners began setting fires, taking hostages, and raiding prison medical clinics. At least 12 inmates died in Italy in three days as a result of the riots.
According to the Ministry of Justice website, family visits are still suspended under Italy’s COVID-19 regulations.
Pope Francis offered his televised morning Mass on March 11, 2020, for prisoners following the riots.
“Today, in a special way, I would like to pray for those who are in prison, for our brothers and sisters … they suffer, and we must be near to them in prayer, asking that the Lord might help them and console them in this difficult moment,” he said.
Pope Francis has often shown his concern for prisoners.
In 2020, he chose a prison chaplain to write the meditations for the papal Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, it was also Francis’ tradition to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a Rome prison or detention center. During Mass, the pope washed the feet of the prisoners.
In 2016, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis held a Mass for prisoners and their families in St. Peter’s Basilica.
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He encouraged the guests to have hope, and said that God’s mercy “invites us to keep looking ahead and to overcome our attachment to evil and sin through faith and abandonment in him.”
Around 1,000 prisoners and ex-prisoners from around the world were in attendance at the Mass, along with around 3,000 family members, prison employees, and chaplains.
Inmates of all types were included among the participants, including minors, people on house arrest, and those with varying sentences.
As Covid-19 cases have been on the rise among the incarcerated, Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton has called on the British government to reinstate an early release program to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.