Pope's Address to Participants of the National Congress of Chaplains

At 9:30 this morning, before the General Audience, the Holy Father Francis received in audience, in Paul VI Hall, the participants in the National Congress of Chaplains of Italian Prisons and addressed to them the words of greeting which we translate below.

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Dear Brothers,

I thank you and I would like to take advantage of this meeting with you, who work in the prisons of the whole of Italy, to have my greeting reach all those detained. Please tell them that I pray for them, I keep them in my heart, I pray to the Lord and Our Lady that they will be able to surmount positively this difficult period of their life. That they not be discouraged or close themselves. You know that one day everything goes well, but another day one is down, and that wave is difficult. The Lord is close, but say it with gestures, with words , with the heart that the Lord doesn’t stay outside, he does not stay outside of their cell, he does not stay outside of prisons, but inside; he is there. You can say this: the Lord is inside with them; he too is a prisoner, again today, prisoner of our egoisms, of our systems, of so many injustices, because it is easy to punish the weakest, but the big fish swim freely in the waters. No cell is so isolated as to exclude the Lord, none. He is there, he weeps with them, works with them, waits with them. His paternal and maternal love reaches everywhere. I pray that each one will open his heart to this love. When I received a letter from one of them at Buenos Aires, I visited him, whereas now when those of Buenos Aires write to me again, sometimes I call them, especially on Sunday, I have a chat. Then when I finish I think: why is he there and not I who have so many more reasons to be there? It does me good to think this: because the weaknesses we have are the same, why did he fall and I didn’t fall? This is a mystery for me which makes me pray and makes me come close to prisoners.

And I also pray for you Chaplains, for your ministry, which isn’t easy; it is very demanding and very important, because it expresses one of the works of mercy, renders visible the Lord’s presence in prisons, in the cell. You are a sign of Christ’s closeness to these brothers who are in need of hope, of open doors, of horizons. This isn’t a utopia, it can be done. It’s not easy because our weaknesses are everywhere, the devil is also everywhere, temptations are everywhere, but there is always need for us to be tested.

I wish that the Lord will always be with you, bless you and Our Lady take care of you; always by the hand of Our Lady, because she is the Mother of all of you and of all those in prison. This is what I wish for you, thank you! And let us ask the Lord to bless you and your men and women friends of the prisons; but first let us pray to Our Lady, that she will lead us always to Jesus: Hail Mary …

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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