On his last day in Mexico, Pope Francis traveled to a city notorious for its violence and drug activity, meeting with inmates at a prison to deliver the message that no matter what their regrets, it's never too late to start again.
"United to you and with you today, I want to reiterate once more the confidence that Jesus urges us to have: the mercy that embraces everyone and is found in every corner of the world," the Pope said Feb. 17.
"There is no place beyond the reach of his mercy, no space or person it cannot touch."
Pope Francis traveled to Ciudad Juarez, which borders the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas, on the last day of his Feb. 12-17 visit to Mexico, which is the first international trip he has made during the Jubilee of Mercy.
His stop in the city is symbolic, both because it is known for serious problems with drug cartels and violence, and because of the high numbers of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central Am erica who daily cross into the United States through the Juarez-El Paso border, often seeking to escape violence in their home countries.
After telling youth in Mexico's crime-ridden city of Morelia yesterday not to give in to the lies of drug dealers or be used by people with selfish interests, he told the prisoners that even though they have perhaps chosen this path, there is still hope that they, and society, can change.
He pointed to the ongoing Jubilee of Mercy, saying that to celebrate it with them is a reminder of the "pressing journey that we must undertake in order to break the cycle of violence and crime."
"We have already lost many decades thinking and believing that everything will be resolved by isolating, separating, incarcerating and ridding ourselves of problems, believing that these policies really solve problems," he said.
However, what we have forgotten, Francis continued, is that our focus and true concern ought to be people's lives, the lives of their families, as well as those "who have suffered because of this cycle of violence."
The Pope said that prisons often say something about the society in which they are located. In many cases, he noted, prisons serve as a sign of "the silence and omissions" that have led to a throwaway culture that has ceased to support life and which has abandoned its children.
Mercy, then, serves as a reminder that reintegration doesn't begin inside the prison walls, but rather outside "on the streets."
"Reintegration or rehabilitation begins by creating a system which we could call social health, that is, a society which seeks not to cause sickness, polluting relationships in neighborhoods, schools, town squares, the streets, homes and in the whole of the social spectrum," he said.
Jesus' own concern for the hungry, homeless and prisoner was an expression of the core of God's mercy, Pope Francis said, adding that this ought to serve as a "moral imperative" for a society that wants better the conditions of everyday life.
Included in these conditions, he said, are the guarantee that all children have access to school, that everyone has an opportunity for dignified work, and that public spaces are created for leisure and recreation.
Francis said that to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy means leaning "not to be prisoners of the past," but rather to "open the door to the future" and believe that change is possible.
"We know that we cannot turn back, we know that what is done, is done," he said, explaining that he wanted to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy with them there "because it does not exclude the possibility of writing a new story and moving forward."
Despite suffering the pain of failure, the sorrow of sin and remorse for what they may have done in the past, Pope Francis said that the power of the Resurrection and of the Divine Mercy that "makes all things new" is still within their reach.
Dear prisoners, while you have experienced great pain, you can become prophets of a better society without violence and exclusion.
"This mercy can reach you in the hardest and most difficult of places, but such occasions can also perhaps bring truly positive results," he said, reflecting on the capacity of those who have suffered to be bring about change in society.
Francis closed his speech by leading inmates in a moment of silent prayer, asking that each one pray for God "to help us believe in his mercy."
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