GENERAL AUDIENCE: On Visiting the Sick, Imprisoned

‘Jesus has given us the possibility to be free despite the limitations of sickness and of restrictions’

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Here is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ prepared address during this morning’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Jesus’ life, especially in the three years of His public ministry, was an incessant encounter with individuals. Among these, the sick had a special place. How many pages of the Gospel talk about these encounters! The paralytic, the blind, the leper, the possessed, the epileptic, and innumerable sick of all sorts … Jesus made Himself close to each one of them, and He healed them with His presence and the power of His healing strength. Therefore, among the works of mercy, to visit and assist the sick cannot be lacking.
Together with this, we can insert also that of being close to individuals that are in prison. In fact, the sick and the imprisoned live a condition that limits their freedom. It is in fact when the latter is lacking that we realize how precious it is! Jesus has given us the possibility to be free despite the limitations of sickness and of restrictions. He offers us the freedom that comes from our encounter with Him and from the new sense that this encounter leads to our personal condition.
With these works of mercy, the Lord invites us to a gesture of great humanity: sharing. We remember this word: sharing. One who is sick often feels alone. We cannot hide <the fact> that, especially in our days, precisely in sickness, one has a more profound experience of the solitude that runs through a great part of life. A visit can make the sick person feel less alone and a little company is an optimum medicine! A smile, a caress, a handshake are simple gestures, but so important for one who feels abandoned to himself. How many persons dedicate themselves to visiting the sick in hospitals and in their homes! It is a priceless work of volunteers. When it is done in the Lord’s name, then it also becomes an eloquent and effective expression of mercy. Let us not leave the sick alone! Let us not impede them from finding relief, and us from being enriched by our closeness to those who suffer. Hospitals are real “cathedrals of pain,” where, however, the strength of charity, which sustains and feels compassion, is rendered evident.
In the same line, I think of all those locked in prisons. Jesus did not forget them either. By putting a visit to the imprisoned among the works of mercy, He wished to invite us, first of all, not to be judges of anyone. Of course, if one is in prison it is because he has erred, has not respected the law and civil coexistence. Therefore, he is being punished accordingly, by being in prison. But, whatever an imprisoned person might have done, he remains, nevertheless, always loved by God. Who can enter the depth of his conscience to understand what he feels? Who can understand the pain and the remorse? It is very easy to wash one’s hands affirming that he erred. Instead, a Christian is called to take charge of him, so that the one who erred understands the evil he did and returns to himself. The lack of freedom is without a doubt one of the greatest privations for the human being. If to this is added the degradation given the conditions often deprived of humanity, in which these individuals find themselves living, then it is truly the case in which a Christian feels stirred to do his utmost to restore to them their dignity.
To visit persons in prison is a work of mercy that, especially today, assumes a particular value because of the different forms of [justicialism] to which we are subjected. Therefore, no one must point the finger at another. Instead, we must all render ourselves instruments of mercy, with attitudes of sharing and of respect. I wonder what led them to commit a crime and how were they able to yield to the different forms of evil. Yet, together with these thoughts I feel they are all in need of closeness and tenderness, so that God’s mercy will work wonders. How many tears I have seen fall down the cheeks of prisoners, who perhaps had never cried in their life; and this only because they felt received and loved.
And let us not forget that Jesus and the Apostles also experienced imprisonment. In the accounts of the Passion we learn about the sufferings the Lord was subjected to: seized, dragged as an evildoer, derided, scourged, crowned with thorns … He, the only Innocent One! And Saint Peter and Saint Paul were also in prison (cf. Acts 12:5; Philippians 1:12-17). Last Sunday, which was the Jubilee of the Imprisoned – in the afternoon, a group of prisoners of Padua came to see me. I asked them what they would do the day after, before returning to Padua. They said to me: “We will go to the Mamertine Prison to share Saint Paul’s experience.” It was lovely to hear this; it did me good. These prisoners wanted to meet Paul, the prisoner. It was a lovely thing, and it did me good. And there also, in the prison, they prayed and evangelized. Moving is the page in the Acts of the Apostles that recounts Paul’s imprisonment: he felt alone and wanted one of his friends to visit him (cf. 2 Timothy 4:9-15). He felt alone because the great majority left him alone … the great Paul.
These works of mercy, as you see, are ancient and yet always timely. Jesus left what He was doing to go to visit Peter’s mother-in-law; an ancient work of mercy. Jesus did it. Let us not fall into indifference, but let us become instruments of God’s mercy and this will do us more good than the others because mercy passes through a gesture, a word, a visit and this mercy is an act to restore joy and dignity to one who has lost it.
[Original text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT] In Italian
Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims: welcome! I greet the Fathers of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata, who are celebrating the bicentenary of their foundation, and the Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena. I greet the Caritas Group from Livorno; the youngsters affected by the Rett Syndrome; the students, in particular those of the Severi-Guerrisi Institute, accompanied by the Bishop of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi, Monsignor Francesco Milito, and the military men of the “Reoas” Third Regiment of Viterbo. May the crossing of the Holy Door remind each one that only through Christ is it possible to enter in the love and mercy of the Father, who receives and forgives all.
A particular greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of Rome. Pray for the Successor of the Apostle Peter, dear young people, so that he always confirms brothers in the faith; feel the Pope’s closeness in prayer, dear sick, to face the trial of sickness; teach the faith to your children with simplicity, dear newlyweds, nourishing it with love for the Church and for Her pastors.
[Original text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT]  

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