Sunday, April 28, 2024

Pope begins visit to Venice at the women's prison


Pope encourages women inmates at start of his visit to Venice

Pope Francis begins his pastoral visit to Venice at the Giudecca Women’s Prison, where he tells female inmates that he very much wanted to meet them to tell them they hold a special place in his heart.

By Thaddeus Jones

Pope Francis arrived in Venice via helicopter from the Vatican early on Sunday, 28 April, making the first stop of his pastoral visit to a women's penitentiary institution, the Venice Giudecca Women's Prison.

The Pope greeted over 80 of the inmates, as well as prison staff, security, and volunteers. He greeted each person one-by-one, gave a brief address and then listened attentively to groups of them as they came forward to thank him and offer gifts they made for the occasion.

Special place in his heart

In his address, Pope Francis explained how he wished to be with them on this first event of his visit to Venice to assure them that they hold a "special place" in his heart. And he suggested that this moment be experienced less as an "official visit" and more as a special encounter together where "thanks be to God, we can give each other time, prayer, closeness and fraternal affection" allowing for precious mutual enrichment. He added that God knows each one of us and that here today we each have something unique to give and receive that can benefit us all. 

The Lord brings us together

The Pope said it is the Lord who brings us together, and while the paths from which we have come vary, "some are very painful," also due to mistakes that have led to wounds and scars each carries within.

He acknowledged the "harsh reality" of prison also due to overcrowding, the lack of facilities and resources, and incidents of violence that add to the difficult reality. 

At the same time, he noted that prison can also offer a time for moral and physical rebirth where the dignity of women and men is not left in isolation, but "promoted through mutual respect and the nurturing of talents and abilities" each person has. He said sometimes these talents can be "dormant" or "isolated" by life's challenges, but they "can re-emerge for the good of all" with due attention and perseverance. He added that "no one can take away a person's dignity, no one!"

New beginnings

Despite it all, prison time can allow for new beginnings through the "rediscovery of the undiscovered beauty in us and in others," the Pope said, "as symbolized by the artistic event you are hosting and the project to which you actively contribute." 

Prison can become the worksite for rebuilding lives, the Pope went on to say, by thinking about one's life and, with courage, doing away what is not needed, harmful, or dangerous. By planning, one can start again, creating a new foundation, and in light of experience, rebuild brick by brick with determination, he said.

The Pope underscored how important it is for prison systems to offer possibilities "for human, spiritual, cultural and professional growth" that favour "healthy reintegration" in society, offering "new possibilities" that will benefit everyone.

We have all made mistakes that need to be forgiven and wounds to heal, he pointed out, and when that happens the forgiven can themselves bring forgiveness to others, the reborn can bring rebirth, and the healed can be healers.

Trust and hope in the future

In conclusion, the Pope encouraged everyone to renew their trust in the future and "always look to the horizon, always look to the future, with hope."

“I like to think of hope as an anchor, you know, that is anchored in the future, and we hold the rope in our hands and go forward with the rope anchored in the future.”

In thanking those present before leaving, the Pope gave the inmates an icon of the Blessed Mother and Child, explaining how you can see the tenderness Mary has with all of us as "she is the Mother of tenderness."

Groups of inmates then came forward to greet the Pope, offering words of gratitude for his visit and expressing hopes for a better future for them and our world. They gave the Pope fruits of their efforts working in the prison-run cooperatives where they produce a variety of goods ranging from soaps, clothing and flowers.

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