On Friday, Pope Francis met with 8 young prisoners from different correctional institutions in Rio de Janeiro. The meeting was held at the residence of the Archbishop of Rio prior to the recitation of the Angelus. Due to the age of the young prison inmates, the encounter was not photographed or televised. The Holy Father had added the visit to his schedule which lasted roughly 30 minutes.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office briefed journalists on the atmosphere of the meeting. The young inmates, 6 males and 3 females, were accompanied by Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro, a judge, a priest and a lay person in charge of the prison pastoral. Also present at the meeting was Archbishop Emeritus of Rio de Janeiro, Cardinal Eusébio Oscar Scheid.
“The judge said a few words thanking the work of the Church in the prisons,” Fr. Lombardi said. “For the youth there present, the judge told them that he would have good news for them next week. However, he did not say what exactly it was.”
Fr. Lombardi stated that atmosphere was serene. The youngest girl present was very expressive when she spoke to the Pope and she was very moved by the Pope’s visit. She also sang a song she composed especially for the Pope and read a letter she wrote on behalf of her fellow inmates.
All the young prisoners were given an opportunity to speak. The director of the Holy See Press Office also stated that the youth sat around the Pope and asked the Pope to bless several objects and for his autograph.
“The moment was very beautiful and impressive. They gave the Holy Father a large rosary with a cross attached to it,” Fr. Lombardi recounted. One the cross were inscribed the words Candelaria Nunca Mais (Candelaria Never Again). This was in reference to the 1993 massacre that occurred in front of the Candelaria Church in Rio de Janeiro. Several policemen opened fire at about 70 homeless children sleeping in front of the church, killing 8 of them.
Fr. Lombardi said that every large bead had inscribed the names of the 8 victims of Candelaria. “The Holy Father prayed in front of this rosary,” Fr. Lombardi said. “He said many times ‘No more violence, only love. Candelaria, never again.’ Later he had the yough pray an Our Father and then said a prayer for all young victims of violence who are suffering.”
While the Holy Father did not give an address, throughout the meeting he continuously encouraged the youth, inviting to look towards the future and to pray for him.”
“For me, it was a very emotional meeting, as well as for the Pope,” Fr. Lombardi concluded. The Vatican spokesman also revealed that the plight of young prison inmates is an issue very dear to the Pope’s heart. To this day, he said, “the Pope calls a group of prisoners in Argentina every two weeks.”