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Hope in the mud

· A visit to Palmasola Rehabilitation Center in Bolivia ·

Palmasola PS4 is not the latest video game made by the well-known Japanese computer entertainment corporation. There is no fantasy, only life in a prison where the despair is real. Palmasola Rehabilitation Center was the last stop on Pope Francis' visit in Bolivia.

Here you get your feet dirty — in the literal sense of the word. The street leading to the center is unpaved and the people live with an exposed sewer system are just some of the ways in which this penitentiary exposes the reality in Latin America, which is among the hardest and most painful in the world. At the same time it is also a place (the degree of success is unknown) which practices experimental cohabitation of inmates and their families.

The center is set up to house 400 people, however it currently holds 1,800. These people live together in a kind of protected village, managed by the prisoners themselves. There are also many children who live here since Bolivian law permits mothers to stay with their children until they reach the age of six. In addition there are 170 adolescents.

On arriving at the center's sports field, Francis went to the small chapel to place a bouquet of flowers in front of a little statue of Our Lady. Then he stopped to listened to the testimonies, with two children sitting at his feet, unconcerned with those who invited them to leave the stage. The Holy Father stood to embrace the two men and a woman who had presented their stories at Palmasola and told of their path to the center. Then the Pope delivered his final address in Bolivia and in a sign of gratitude the inmates gave him a hammock and the book Voices in Freedom, which contains their thoughts and prayers.

Gianluca Biccini on assignment in Bolivia

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