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That prisoners may be treated with justice and respect for their human dignity.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters, My purpose in visiting this institution for social rehabilitation is to show the love and concern of Peter’s Successor for all of you, those of you here present, and all those deprived of liberty. This morning I want to share with you some reflections on the Word of God, with the sole desire that they may light up your hopes and longings, and alleviate your sorrows and disappointments. I know that you find yourselves in a difficult and painful situation. The Pope, who is with you each day in his thoughts and in his prayer, entreats God’s help for you. May His grace and favour support you even in the midst of the limitations that your daily life brings.
Jesus says to us in the Gospel: ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.’ (Mt.11: 28-30). That is the Lord’s constant call to all men and women, and particularly to those to whom he wishes to reveal the salvific meaning of suffering. Meeting you, dear brothers and sisters, moves me deeply. I can imagine how many things disturb your hearts, and how many unfulfilled desires fill them with pain and nostalgia. As elder brother in Christ, my wish would be to be able to share with each one of you an intimate and unhurried conversation in which we could have a dialogue of hope and love, going over personal experiences, past frustrations, the plans which give encouragement for the future, and, particularly, the present situation of your families. I am certain that, together with the richness of your feelings, I should discover the deep humanity hidden within each one of you. I know that you would show me what each one has within.
Unfortunately, circumstances do not allow us to share even a few minutes, but I want you to receive my words as if they were spoken to each one of you individually. Christ is the only one who can give meaning to our lives. In Him is to be found peace, serenity and complete liberation, because He saves us from the radical slavery, the cause of all others, which is sin, and inspires in our hearts the yearning for true liberty, fruit of God’s grace, which heals and renews what is deepest in the human person. The liberty which Christ offers us, begins inside a human being, declares itself above all in the moral order; there where egoism, hatred, violence and disorder have their roots. Christ has come to redeem people from the sin which deprives them of their freedom: ‘Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin’ (Jn.8: 34), Jesus says in the Gospel. And it is from that slavery that He wants to free all of us human beings. There is no one who does not need Christ’s liberation, because there is no one who has not been, who is not, to some extent, prisoner of himself and his passions, in some more or less serious way. We all need conversion and repentance; we all need Christ’s saving grace, which He offers freely, with full hands. He waits only for us to say, like the prodigal son, ‘I will arise and go to my Father’s house’ (Lk.15: 18).
The doors of God’s house are always open. In it Christ makes himself present through the Word and the sacraments. All through the centuries the Church has carried out patiently, but with determination, her work as Mother and Mistress, to make the institutions and principles which regulate life in society more humane. Who can be unaware of the positive influence that the gospel message has exercised over the centuries in defending and promoting greater respect for the dignity of the prisoner as person, as child of God? In the history of humanity – as I have already said on my visit to the prison in Rome – ‘there has been much progress in this field, but certainly much still remains to be done. The Church, as interpreter of Christ’s message, appreciates and encourages the efforts of those who devote themselves generously to changing the prison system in the direction of full respect for the rights and dignity of the person’ (Homily in the Rebibbia Prison, Rome, n.3, 27 December 1983: Teachings of John Paul II, VI, 2 (1983) 1449s).
In this connection, how can I not express openly my gratitude and affection for all the pastoral workers in Chile’s prisons? You, priest-chaplains, religious sisters and other co-workers, show the Church’s maternal concern for our brothers and sisters, making the words of Jesus in the Gospel part of your life: ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Mt.25:36). Be bearers of God’s merciful love and indefatigable preachers of Christ’s saving message. Help everyone to rediscover the road to good; do your part in the sincere conversion of all the men and women with whom you exercise your apostolate, and encourage them to take up a new and better life. On this occasion I also want to greet all the personnel of the Chilean gendarmerie who work in the penal institutions. Make of your work, also, a service to the brother who is suffering.
Through the intercession of Our Lady of Carmen, loving Mother of all Chileans, I send up my fervent prayer to God that He may help everyone with His grace, that He may help especially our brothers and sisters in prison and make possible the defence of those who are innocent, while with all my heart I give my Apostolic Blessing to the prisoners, their families, to those responsible for prison chaplaincy, to all those who seek to relieve the pains of those who suffer, and to the personnel of the Chilean gendarmerie.


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