Here is a translation of the original text of Pope Francis’ speech to detainees in the Rosetta Sisca penitentiary in Castrovillari this morning. It was the Pope’s first stop during today’s Calabria visit:
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The first gesture of my pastoral visit is my meeting with you, in this Administrative House of Castrovillari. In this way I would like to express the closeness of the Pope and of the Church to every man and every woman who is in prison, anywhere in the world. Jesus said: “I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:36).
Stressed often in reflections regarding the detained is the subject of respect for the fundamental rights of man and the exigency of corresponding conditions of expiation of the punishment. This aspect of penitentiary policy is certainly essential and attention to the same must always be high. However, this perspective is not yet sufficient if it is not accompanied and completed by a concrete commitment by the institutions in view of an effective reinsertion in the society (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the 17th Conference of Directors of Penitentiary Administrations of the Council of Europe, November 22, 2012). When this end is neglected, the execution of the punishment degrades to a sole instrument of punishment and social retaliation, which in turn is harmful for the individual and for society. And God does not do this with us. When God forgives us, He accompanies and helps us on the way – always, also in small things. When we go to confession, the Lord says to us: “I forgive you. But now come with me.” And He helps us to take up the way again. He never condemns. He never forgives only, but He forgives and accompanies. Then we are fragile and we must return to confession, all of us. But He does not tire. He always takes us by the hand again. This is the love of God, and we must imitate Him! Society must imitate Him, it must follow this way.
Moreover, a true and full reinsertion of the person does not happen as the end of a purely human endeavor. On this journey the encounter with God also enters, the capacity to let oneself be looked at by God who loves us. It is more difficult to let ourselves be looked at by God than to look at God. It is more difficult to let oneself be encountered by God than to encounter God, because there is always a resistance in us. And He waits for us, He looks at us, He seeks us always — this God who loves us, who is able to understand us, able to forgive our errors. The Lord is a teacher of reinsertion: He takes us by the hand and leads us back to the social community. The Lord always forgives, always accompanies, always understands; it is for us to let ourselves be understood, to allow ourselves to be forgiven, to allow ourselves to be accompanied.
I wish for each one of you that this time is not lost, but that it be a precious time, during which to ask and to obtain this grace of God. By doing so, you will contribute to render better, first of all, yourselves, but at the same time also the community, because in good and evil, our actions have an influence on others and on the whole human family.
At this moment I would like to express an affectionate thought to your families. May the Lord grant you to embrace them again in serenity and peace.
And, finally, an encouragement to all those who work in this House: to the Directors, to the Prison Police agents, and to all the personnel.
I bless you all from my heart and entrust you to the protection of the Madonna, our Mother. And please, I ask you to pray for me, because I also make mistakes and must do penance. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]