By Ann Schneible
ROME, DEC 19, 2011 (Zenit.org).- “‘I was in prison and you came to me’ (Matthew 25:36). These are the words of the Last Judgment, as told by the Evangelist Matthew, and these words of the Lord, in which he identifies with the prisoners, express the full meaning of my visit with you today. Wherever there is the hungry, stranger, sick, incarcerated, there is Christ himself who awaits our visit and our help. This is the main reason that makes me happy to be here, to pray, talk and listen.”
These were some of the words that Benedict XVI shared during his pastoral visit to Rebbibia prison yesterday, where he spent almost an hour speaking to the inmates and listening to their questions.
Less than a month before the Holy Father’s visit, a group of young missionaries, following that same call of Christ and his Church, brought the World Youth Day cross to another prison just south of Rome.
It was on Nov. 26 that the Centro San Lorenzo International Centre for Youth brought this cross, which John Paul II bequeathed to the youth of the world 27 years ago, to the inmates of Casa Circondariale, the prison of Civitaveccia. This is the Centro San Lorenzo’s fifth prison ministry experience since 2010, having also organized missions to Rebibbia prison on three separate occasions, and once to the maximum security prison in the small town of Paliano, Italy.
The objective of the mission was to testify that the cross is infinitely salvific to every person, regardless of who they are or what they have done.
“The cross is always a symbol of hope for all people,” explained Michael Coughlan, seminarian from the Venerable English College in Rome and the mission’s organizer, “and in prisons it can be a quite hopeless time, so it’s important for us to remember that the victory of the cross is for all people. That includes those in prison — or maybe, especially those in prison. Because, whatever they’ve done, it doesn’t matter. Christ still brings his message, his hope, his forgiveness into that place.”
Rediscovering the Incarnation
The program of the mission included veneration of the World Youth Day cross, a viewing of the World Youth Day cross documentary “The Power of the Cross,” selections from the Via Crucis, personal testimonies, and confessions. Bishop Luigi Marrucci of Civitaveccia was also present to offer a spiritual reflection for those present.
“The cross,” he said, “is a sign of hope … the Lord has risen, he is living; he can come among us, with the word, the sacraments, where ‘more are gathered in his name.’ He becomes a traveling companion. He is no longer nailed to the cross.”
The 10 volunteers who accompanied the cross, including three priests, a seminarian, and a handful of lay people, came representing five countries from around the world: the United States, England, Slovakia, Australia, and Italy. Bishop Marrucci and members of the Cannosian community were also present. True to John Paul II’s vision for the mission of the World Youth Day cross, the international diversity of the volunteers helped convey the message that the power of the cross reaches all corners of the earth.
For Coughlan, the most spectacular exemplification of this was when, at the conclusion of the mission, everyone gathered together and sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
“It didn’t matter that we were singing in Latin,” he said. “People from all places knew how to sing it and in the end, as we stood in front of the altar with the cross on the vigil of Advent, people found hope again in the incarnation of Christ, and the victory he won for us.”