· Vatican City ·

A special encounter at the Vatican

Inmates bake fresh bread
for Francis

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25 June 2021

On Monday morning, 21 June, 12 inmates from the III Roma Rebibbia Prison brought a basket of fresh bread to the Pope, at Casa Santa Marta, and then they visited the Vatican Museums. They had prepared that bread the night before, with their own hands, to say “thank you” to Francis “for the gift of hope he offers” to them and other detainees.

And, in a familial spirit, the Pope shared with the twelve the very concern he has for all those who live the tragic situation of reclusion, recalling past prison visits he had made in Argentina. He also assured them of his prayers for their families.

“Today the entire prison community, along with the Pope, shared an extremely important experience”, said an emotional Fr Moreno M. Versolato, a priest of the Servants of Mary, and chaplain of the smallest of the four sections of the Roman prison. Yes, Fr Moreno speaks about “community” because, he emphasized, “today, here in the Vatican we have come together: 12 inmates, the director of the third prison of Rebibia, Anna Maria Trapazzo, three instructors, female prison police officers and two women surveillance magistrates”.

The very presence of the two judges, Anna Vari and Paola Cappelli, the chaplain noted, was highly significant: “They are the ones who evaluate and sign the authorizations in the social reintegration programmes, through alternative day-release measures, and it is extraordinary that today, directly along with the inmates, they should live out an experience of beauty which is a ‘school of life’ for everyone”.

Fr Moreno explained that “these young people grew up in run-down areas on the outskirts or perhaps they come from faraway towns … in other words, they have had, since they were little, another ‘school’…”.

Barbara Jatta, director of the “Pope’s Museums”, who received the Rebibbia “ambassadors” with a warm “welcome”, echoed the chaplain: “These galleries are home to everyone; here each person, with their own sensitivity, can find ‘something’ that applies to their life and can make it better. With great joy today Vatican Museums are presented and proposed to the detainees and to those accompanying them as an inspiration to the beauty that touches the depths of the soul”.

The visit to the Museums — which included a particularly striking moment in the carriage pavilion — was even more meaningful, said Fr Moreno, “because during this pandemic period, the inmates have suffered a great deal of isolation and marginalization due to the impossibility of embracing their loved ones”. They are extreme situations, truly “at the limit”, he said, and it is easy to give in to the temptation to give room to conflicts and anger. And this applies to the entire service staff as well.

“I can testify, as chaplain, to how great and sincere the affection of the detainees is for Pope Francis”, said the priest. “This morning we thanked him personally, all together, for the closeness he shows us continually and on different occasions”.

The Pope’s gift of the ‘colomba’ Easter cakes, he added, was a surprise for everyone. “But the greatest thanks”, the chaplain concluded, “is for his prayers and for his requests to political authorities to keep changing the conditions of detentions especially where personal dignity is constantly violated”.

At the end of the morning at the Vatican, the warden spoke about the experience of welcome and hope: “The gift of bread for the Pope has an enormous value for us: in the middle of the lockdown we started a baker’s workshop and seven inmates have been hired by a company. Thus, the bread made last night for Francis is a ‘thank you’. And also the gift of the ‘tile’ with the cross, an expression of the mosaic course, is not a formal gesture, but a sign of faith and hope”.

Giampaolo Mattei