When people heard that the pope was coming, they "were extremely excited...Regardless of whatever religion they were from, [they] were excited that the pope was coming, so there was a huge amount of energy in the prison for it."
During the Mass, the pope washed the feet of 12 prisoners from different religions - including Catholics, Muslims, an Orthodox Christian and a Buddhist. The inmates were from various countries, including the Philippines, Nigeria, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Moldova, and Italy.
Nevitt said they work with a many non-Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, in their bible studies. At one point they had prepared a man for baptism, and after being transferred to another prison, he came into the Catholic Church.
Another of these non-Catholics is a Nigerian man named Oladipupo, who has been in their bible study for two years and whose feet the pope washed on Holy Thursday.
Oladipupo is a Pentecostal Christian, but has come to the bible study regularly, and even wrote a letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Liturgy and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after reading Sarah's recent book "God or Nothing." And he got a response back.
"We're hoping that Oladipupo will soon be called to the Catholic faith once he's ready for it," Nevitt said, explaining that after yesterday's liturgy, he spoke to Oladipupo, who was amazed to see "the humanity of the pope, to see this man who is the leader of the Catholic Church in such a human way."
Similarly, Nevitt said he also spoke with a Muslim man after the Holy Thursday Mass, though he didn't know the man was a Muslim at the time. The man had been so moved by the liturgy that he had wanted to receive communion, and is now going to start coming to the bible study led by the seminarians.
Many people were moved by the pope's homily Mass, Nevitt said, during which Francis emphasized forgiveness, condemned the death penalty, and told prisoners that Jesus would never abandon them, but would "take a chance" on them.
"Throughout the whole homily everyone was quite captivated at every word the pope was saying, and you could see even from a couple of the guards who were standing around me, there were a lot of head nods," Nevitt said.
The space itself was very intimate, he said, noting that the rotunda where the Mass took place was small and only a limited number of guards and prisoners were able to sit inside the area, while the rest watched from different wings.
"There were certain moments, especially when the pope was kneeling down to wash the prisoners' feet, you could see people crying," Nevitt said. "There was a very humanness to seeing the pope kneeling down at his age, sometimes he would have difficulty...getting back up, and people [were] just crying at his example of humble leadership."
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