07/10/2015, 00.00
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Pope in Bolivia tells inmates that Jesus keeps us from despair and encourages us to keep going

During his visit to the Santa Cruz-Palmasola Rehabilitation Centre, Francis spoke of imprisonment, which must respect human dignity, as well as reintegration and pray. “The man standing before you is a man who has experienced forgiveness. A man who was, and is, saved from his many sins.”

Santa Cruz (AsiaNews) – In his last event in Bolivia, before some 3,000 inmates and families at the Santa Cruz-Palmasola Rehabilitation Centre, Pope Francis said that we must hand over our wounds, pain and sins to Jesus.

In a place of harsh treatment, where riots have been severely repressed, the latest in August 2013 (35 deaths) the Holy Father said that wounds “can be soothed, washed clean, changed and healed,” and yet Jesus “died for us, for me, so that he could stretch out us his hand and lift us up.”

For this occasion, prisoners’ families and children were allowed to visit the facility. Yellow hats and balloons were handed out, so the prison’s sports field, where the meeting was held (pictured), sported several yellow spots.

“I could not leave Bolivia without seeing you,” he told the crowd, “without sharing that faith and hope which are the fruit of the love revealed on the cross of Christ. Thank you for welcoming me; I know that you have prepared yourselves for this moment and that you have been praying for me. I am deeply grateful for this.

“In the words of [. . .] of those who have spoken, I have seen how pain does not stifle the hope deep within the human heart, and how life goes on, finding new strength even in the midst of difficulties.

“You may be asking yourselves: ‘Who is this man standing before us?’ I would like to reply to that question with something absolutely certain about my own life. The man standing before you is a man who has experienced forgiveness. A man who was, and is, saved from his many sins. That is who I am. I don’t have much more to give you or to offer you, but I want to share with you what I do have and what I love. It is Jesus Christ, the mercy of the Father.

“Jesus came to show the love which God has for us. For you and for me. It is a love which is powerful and real. It is a love which takes seriously the plight of those he loves. It is a love which heals, forgives, raises up and shows concern. It is a love which draws near and restores dignity. We can lose this dignity in so many ways. But Jesus is stubborn: he gave his very life to restore the identity we had lost.

“Here is something which can help us to understand this. Peter and Paul, disciples of Jesus, were prisoners too. They too lost their freedom. But there was something that sustained them, something that did not let them yield to despair, that experience of darkness and meaninglessness. That something was prayer, both individually and with others. They prayed, and they prayed for one another. These two forms of prayer became a network to maintain life and hope. And that network keeps us from yielding to despair. It encourages us to keep moving forward. It is a network which supports life, your own lives and those of your families.

“When Jesus becomes part of our lives, we can no longer remain imprisoned by our past. Instead, we begin look to the present, and we see it differently, with a different kind of hope. We begin to see ourselves and our lives in a different light. We are no longer stuck in the past, but capable of shedding tears and finding in them the strength to make a new start. If there are times when you experience sadness, depression, negative feelings, I would ask you to look at Christ crucified. Look at his face. He sees us; in his eyes, there is a place for us. We can all bring to Christ our wounds, our pain, our sins. In his wounds, there is a place for our own wounds. There they can be soothed, washed clean, changed and healed. He died for us, for me, so that he could stretch out us his hand and lift us up. Talk to the priests who come here, talk to them! Jesus wants to help you get up, always.

“This certainty makes us work hard to preserve our dignity. Being imprisoned, ‘shut in’, is not the same thing as being “shut out”. Detention is part of a process of reintegration into society. I know that there are many things here that make it hard: overcrowding, justice delayed, a lack of training opportunities and rehabilitation policies, violence. All these things point to the need for a speedy and efficient cooperation between institutions in order to come up with solutions.

“And yet, while working for this, we should not think that everything is lost. There are things that we can do even today.

“Here, in this rehabilitation centre, the way you live together depends to some extent on yourselves. Suffering and deprivation can make us selfish of heart and lead to confrontation, but we also have the capacity to make these things an opportunity for genuine fraternity. Help one another. Do not be afraid to help one another. The devil is looking for rivalry, division, gangs. Keep working to make progress.”

Speaking about the prison staff, the pontiff said, “they have an important responsibility”: facilitate “the process of reintegration. It is their responsibility to raise up, not to put down, to restore dignity and not to humiliate; to encourage and not to inflict hardship.”

After leaving the prison, Francis held an informal meeting with the bishops of Bolivia in the parish church of Santa Cruz. At 13.20 (GMT -4:00), the papal plane took off for Paraguay. The hammer and sickle-shaped crucifix presented to the pope was not on board when it left.

"This morning before taking his leave, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the Chapel of the private residence of the Archbishop Emeritus of Santa Cruz de la Sierra,” Holy See Press Office director Fr Federico Lombardi said.

“At the end of Mass, the Holy Father left the two presents he received on Wednesday from Bolivian President Evo Morales at the Presidential Palace in La Paz with the Virgin of Copacabana, patroness of Bolivia.”

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