At the celebration of the Jubilee of prisoners, together with prisoners, relatives, prison staff, support groups, and prison chaplains, Pope Francis calls for hope of “being born to a new life”. He notes that “God hopes! His mercy gives him no rest. He is like that Father in the parable, who keeps hoping for the return of his son who has fallen by the wayside.” The pontiff does not appeal for a pardon or an amnesty. Although “A Jubilee always brings with it a proclamation of freedom (Lev 25:39-46), [this] does not depend on me to grant this”. Like prisoners "we are locked up within our own prejudices.” The Mother and Child holding a broken chain, “the chain of slavery and imprisonment”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – “Dear friends, today is your Jubilee! Today, in God’s sight, may your hope be kindled anew,” said Pope Francis as he spoke to a thousand prisoners present today in St Peter's Basilica on their Jubilee pilgrimage. They were accompanied by their families, prison staff, prison chaplains and members of associations that offer assistance inside and outside prisons.
In his homily, the pontiff focused on the theme of hope, “The hope of being born to a new life” and hope as “a gift of God”, something to ask. And the “roots of our hope” are “the certainty of God’s closeness and compassion, despite whatever evil we have done. There is no corner of our heart that cannot be touched by God’s love. Whenever someone makes a mistake, the Father’s mercy is all the more present, awakening repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
“Certainly, breaking the law involves paying the price, and losing one’s freedom is the worst part of serving time, because it affects us so deeply. All the same, hope must not falter. Paying for the wrong we have done is one thing, but another thing entirely is the “breath” of hope, which cannot be stifled by anyone or anything. Our heart always yearns for goodness. We are in debt to the mercy that God constantly shows us, for he never abandons us (cf. Augustine, Sermo 254:1).”
Hope is also a characteristic of God. “God too hopes. While this may seem paradoxical, it is true: God hopes! His mercy gives him no rest. He is like that Father in the parable, who keeps hoping for the return of his son who has fallen by the wayside (Lk 15:11-32). God does not rest until he finds the sheep that was lost (Lk 15:5). So if God hopes, then no one should lose hope. For hope is the strength to keep moving forward. It is the power to press on towards the future and a changed life. It is the incentive to look to tomorrow, so that the love we have known, for all our failings, can show us a new path. In a word, hope is the proof, lying deep in our hearts, of the power of God’s mercy. That mercy invites us to keep looking ahead and to overcome our attachment to evil and sin through faith and abandonment in him.”
On the eve of this Jubilee, rumours began according to which the pope was planning to ask for a pardon or an amnesty for certain categories of prisoners. In his homily, Francis makes no explicit appeal to this effect, but he did say, “A Jubilee always brings with it a proclamation of freedom (Lev 25:39-46).” Although “It does not depend on me to grant this,” he added, “the Church’s duty, one she cannot renounce, is to awaken within you the desire for true freedom.”
"True freedom" is also necessary for those on the outside of prison. “Sometimes, a certain hypocrisy leads to people considering you only as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer.” However, “this way we forget that we are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners. At times we are locked up within our own prejudices or enslaved to the idols of a false sense of wellbeing. At times we get stuck in our own ideologies or absolutize the laws of the market even as they crush other people. At such times, we imprison ourselves behind the walls of individualism and self-sufficiency, deprived of the truth that sets us free. Pointing the finger against someone who has made mistakes cannot become an alibi for concealing our own contradictions.
“We know that in God’s eyes no one can consider himself just (cf. Rom 2:1-11). But no one can live without the certainty of finding forgiveness! The repentant thief, crucified at Jesus’ side, accompanied him into paradise (cf. Lk 23:43). So may none of you allow yourselves to be held captive by the past! True enough, even if we wanted to, we can never rewrite the past. But the history that starts today, and looks to the future, has yet to be written, by the grace of God and your personal responsibility. By learning from past mistakes, you can open a new chapter of your lives. Let us never yield to the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven. Whatever our hearts may accuse us of, small or great, “God is greater than our hearts” (1 Jn 3:20). We need but entrust ourselves to his mercy.”
Francis also stressed that faith too allows the experience of forgiveness. “[T]here are some wounds that only God’s power, his mercy, can heal. But when violence is met with forgiveness, even the hearts of those who have done wrong can be conquered by the love that triumphs over every form of evil. In this way, among the victims and among those who wronged them, God raises up true witnesses and workers of mercy.”
Finally, the Holy Father turned to the statue of the Madonna exposed on the altar of confession, which depicts the Mother and the Child holding a broken chain. “Today we venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary in this statue, which represents her as a Mother who holds Jesus in her arms, together with a broken chain; it is the chain of slavery and imprisonment. May Our Lady look upon each of you with a Mother’s love. May she intercede for you, so that your hearts can experience the power of hope for a new life, one worthy of being lived in complete freedom and in service to your neighbour.”