was in prison and you came to me"
On Sunday, 9 July, the Holy Father celebrated the Jubilee in
Prisons by visiting Rome's "Regina Coeli" Prison, where he
celebrated Mass and preached the homily. One of the Scripture
readings and various intentions of the prayer of the faithful were
read by different prisoners, who also presented the Pope with gifts
they had made. In his homily the Holy Father stressed the spiritual
sense of the liberation that Christ came to bring us: "Sin is
the prison of the spirit. In this regard, how can we forget Jesus'
profound words: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits
sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34)? This is the slavery from
which he above all came to save us". Here is a translation of
his homily, which was given in Italian.
1."I was in prison" (Mt 25:36): these words of Christ
re-echoed for us today in the Gospel passage proclaimed a few
moments ago. They set before our mind's eye the image of Christ actually
imprisoned. We can almost see him again on Holy Thursday evening
in Gethsemane: he, innocence personified, surrounded like a criminal
by an armed band from the Sanhedrin, captured and brought before the
court of Annas and Caiaphas. The long hours of the night follow, as
he awaits trial in Pilate's Roman court. The trial takes place on
Good Friday morning in the praetorium: Jesus stands before the Roman
procurator, who questions him. Over his head hangs the request for
the death penalty by the torture of the cross. We next see him tied
to a pillar to be scourged. Then he is crowned with thorns.... Ecce
homo—"Here is the
man". Pilate said these words, counting perhaps on a humane
reaction from those present. The answer was: "Crucify him,
crucify him!" (Lk 23:21). And when at last they untied his
hands, it was to nail them to the cross.
I have come to tell you that God loves you
2. Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ—the
prisoner—appears before us
who are gathered here. "I was in prison and you came to
me" (Mt 25:36). He is asking to be found in you and in so many
other people touched by various forms of human suffering: "As
you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to
me" (Mt 25:40). These words contain, we could say, the "programme"
of the Jubilee in Prisons which we are celebrating today. They
invite us to live them as a commitment to the dignity of all people,
that dignity which flows from God's love for every human person.
I thank everyone who has wished to participate in this Jubilee
event. I extend a respectful greeting to the authorities who are
attending: the Minister of Justice, the Head of the Prison
Administration Department, the Warden of this prison, the Commander
of the Police Detachment, together with the officers who work with
Above all I greet each of you prisoners with fraternal affection.
I stand before you as a witness to God's love. I come to tell you
that God loves you and wants you to follow a path of
rehabilitation and forgiveness, of truth and justice. I would like
to listen to each of your personal stories. What I cannot do myself
can be done by your chaplains who are at your side in Christ's name.
I extend my cordial greetings to them and to all who carry out this
most demanding task in all the prisons of Italy and the world. I
also feel obliged to express my appreciation to the volunteers who
work with the chaplains in being close to you with appropriate
programmes. With their help too, prison life can acquire human
features and be enriched by a spiritual dimension, which is
most important for your life. This dimension, offered for each one's
free acceptance, should be considered an essential element in a
penal system that is more in conformity with human dignity.
3. The first reading, in which the prophet Isaiah describes
several significant traits of the future Messiah, sheds fight on
just such a project: "He will not cry or lift up his voice, or
make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a
dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring
forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged until he has
established justice in the earth" (Is 42:1-4). At the centre of
this Jubilee there is Christ the prisoner; at the same time
there is Christ the lawgiver. It is he who establishes the
law, proclaims it and strengthens it. However he does this not
with arrogance, but with meekness and love. He heals what is
sick, strengthens what is bruised. Where a faint flame of goodness
still burns, he revives it with the breath of his love. He
forcefully proclaims justice and heals wounds with the balm of
Christ took on himself the sin of the world
In Isaiah's text another series of images opens the prospect of
life, joy and freedom: the future Messiah will come and open the
eyes of the blind and bring out the prisoners from the dungeon
(cf. Is 42:7). Dear brothers and sisters, I imagine that
particularly these last words of the prophet will find an immediate,
hope-filled echo in your hearts.
4. However, the message of God's Word must be accepted with its
full meaning. The "dungeon" from which the Lord comes to
release us is first of all the one where the spirit is chained.
Sin is the prison of the spirit. In this regard, how can we forget
Jesus' profound words: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone
who commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34)? This is the
slavery from which he above all came to save us. For he said:
"If you continue mi my word, you are truly my disciples and you
will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:31)
However, the prophet Isaiah's words about liberation should be
understood in the light of the whole history of salvation, which
culminates in Christ, the Redeemer who took upon himself the sin of
the world (cf. Jn 1:29). God cares about the total liberation of the
human person, a liberation not only concerns physical and external
conditions, but is first and foremost a liberation of the heart.
5. The hope of this liberation—the
Apostle Paul reminds us in the second reading—is
found throughout creation: "The whole creation has been
groaning in travail together until now" (Rom 8:22). Our sin has
disrupted God's plan, and its effects are not only felt in human
life but also in creation itself. This cosmic dimension of the
effects of sin becomes almost tangible in ecological disasters.
No less worrying is the damage caused by sin to the human psyche, to
human biology itself. Sin is devastating. It drives peace from
hearts and causes a chain of sufferings in human relationships. I
imagine how frequently you can observe this truth as you reflect on
your personal histories or listen to those of your cell mates.
This is precisely the slavery from which the Spirit of God comes
to deliver us. He, the Gift par excellence which Christ
obtained for us, "helps us in our weakness ... intercedes for
us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26). If we follow his
promptings, he achieves our complete salvation, "adoption as
sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23).
6. Therefore, he, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, must be the one who
works in your hearts, dear brother and sister prisoners. The Holy
Spirit must pervade this prison where we are meeting and all the
prisons of the world. Christ, the Son of God, became a prisoner; he
let them tie his hands and then nail them to the cross precisely so
that his Spirit could touch the heart of every man. The Spirit of
Christ, the Redeemer of the world, must breathe even where people
are chained in prisons according to the logic of a stiff necessary
human justice. Punishment cannot be reduced to mere retribution,
much less take the form of social retaliation or a sort of
institutional vengeance. Punishment and imprisonment have meaning
if, while maintaining the demands of justice and discouraging crime,
they serve the rehabilitation of the individual by offering
those who have made a mistake an opportunity to reflect and to
change their lives in order to be fully reintegrated into society.
The Spirit of Jesus makes all things now
Let me ask you, then, to aim with all your strength at a new life
in the encounter with Christ. Society as a whole can only rejoice at
your progress. The very people you have hurt will feel perhaps that
they have received more justice by seeing your inner transformation
than merely the penalty you have paid.
I hope that each or you will experience the liberating love of
God. May the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who makes all things new (cf.
Rv 21:5), come down among you and among all the world's prisoners,
filling your hearts with trust and hope.
May you be accompanied by the gaze of Mary, "Regina Caeli",
"Queen of Heaven", to whose motherly tenderness I entrust
you and your families.
At the end of Mass the Holy Father thanked the prison authorities
for their welcome and again spoke to the prisoners.
I thank the Minister, the Head of the Prison Administration and
your representative for their words to me. With them I thank all the
authorities present, expressing to everyone my heartfelt gratitude
for the cordial welcome I have received.
As I take my leave of you, dear prisoners, I would again like to
offer you my greeting, which I also extend to your relatives. I know
quite well that each of you is looking forward to the day when,
having served your time, you will regain your freedom and return to
your family. Aware of this, in the Message I sent to the whole world
for this Jubilee Day, in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in the
spirit of the Holy Year, I asked for a gesture of clemency in
your regard by a "reduction of the term of punishment". I
requested this in the profound conviction that such an action would
be a sign of sensitivity to your condition which could encourage you
to regret what you have done and lead you to personal repentance.
With this in mind, I extend my warmest wishes to everyone.
I would like to add one last word: we cannot forget that this
Roman prison is called "Regina Coeli". This name instils
very great hope. I would like you all to have this hope which comes
from the "Regina Coeli".
Thank you very much. Praised be Jesus Christ.