The roots of this hope must be nourished so as to bear fruit in the certainty "of God's closeness and compassion, despite whatever evil we have done," he said, adding that "there is no corner of our heart that cannot be touched by God's love."
Mercy, the Pope continued, is something that must be thought about "more deeply." While breaking the law certainly involves "paying the price," particularly when it comes to losing one's freedom, at the same time "hope must not falter."
"Paying for the wrong we have done is one thing, but another thing entirely is the breath of hope, which cannot be stifled by anyone or anything."
Francis noted that at times "a certain hypocrisy" leads people to view prisoners as merely "wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer."
"We don't think about the possibility that people can change their lives; we put little trust in rehabilitation," he said, explaining that in doing this we forget "that we are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners."
Often times we are "locked up within our own prejudices or enslaved to the idols of a false sense of well-being," he said. "We get stuck in our own ideologies or absolutize the laws of the market even as they crush other people."
In these moments, we imprison ourselves behind walls of "individualism and self-sufficiency" and are deprived "of the truth that sets us free," Pope Francis said, stressing that "pointing the finger against someone who has made mistakes cannot become an alibi for concealing our own contradictions."
While no one can consider themselves just before God, no one can live "without the certainty of finding forgiveness," he said, and prayed that none of the prisoners present would allow themselves to be "held captive by the past!"
"By learning from past mistakes, you can open a new chapter of your lives. Let us never yield to the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven," Francis said.
He noted that while there are some wounds that only God can heal, when violence is met with forgiveness, "even the hearts of those who have done wrong can be conquered by the love that triumphs over every form of evil."
Pope Francis closed his homily by turning to Mary, praying that she would look upon each of them "with a mother's love" and intercede so that their hearts "can experience the power of hope for a new life, one worthy of being lived in complete freedom and in service to your neighbor."
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