Turin, Italy, Jun 22, 2015 / 13:54 pm
For Fr. Domenico Ricca, chaplain of the Ferrante Aporti juvenile prison in Turin, this weekend's visit from Pope Francis was a dream come true.
"I met Pope Francis two years ago, and I immediately talked to him about visiting the 'Ferrante Aporti' and meeting with prisoners, as I saw he had celebrated the 2013 Holy Thursday Mass in the juvenile prison 'Casal del Marmo' in Rome," Fr. Ricca told CNA.
When he heard that he Pope was planning to visit Turin June 21-22, Fr. Ricca's hopes increased. However, he was afraid, up until the event itself took place, that it would not happen.
"The Pope's daily schedule was very tight, and I knew that it was almost impossible to fix a meeting at the 'Ferrante Aporti,' as it would have taken him too much time to move," he said.
In the end, "the Vatican proposed to meet the young detainees for lunch in the Archbishop's House. The Pope really wanted to meet the young detainees; he is really attentive to these symbolic gestures."
Fr. Ricca, a Salesian who has been serving as chaplain of the juvenile prison for 35 years, said that 11 young inmates – ages 17 to 21 – were chosen to lunch with the Pope.
This was not the first time that they had left the prison, he said, because they are permitted to leave for school exams and other select occasions.
The young detainees had lunch with the Pope June 21, together with several disadvantaged families, included a family from Rome.
"In total, there were about 35 people eating with the Pope," said Fr. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Holy See Press Office.
Fr. Ricca said that "everything took place in about one hour. The Pope arrived in advance, at around 12:40, and he left shortly before 2 p.m."
He added that the "young people were happy, they ate like kings. They also were somewhat astonished, and at the beginning they were shy. After time, they became more comfortable, and addressed many questions to the Pope."
The young detainees gave Pope Francis many gifts, primarily artwork that they had made in prison. The Pope in exchange asked that some pictures of his be given to them.
At the Ferrante Aporti prison, Fr. Ricca works to implement principles from the "preventive system" of education created by St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians. The method focuses on educating youth before they encounter problems with the law rather than trying to rehabilitate them afterwards.
While the youth of Ferrante Aporti have already found themselves in trouble with the law, Fr. Ricca still sees value in St. John Bosco's educational method, and views his work at the prison as that of an oratory.
"I work step by step, with no hurries. I waited for the right time to have a chapel of our own within the prison, I waited for the right time to place a statue of St. John Bosco in the prison's courtyard."
The chapel is now named after the Good Shepherd, and Fr. Ricca even celebrated the baptism of a young detainee there on Pentecost 2014.