Pope Francis has asked for a “gesture of clemency” for prison inmates in the run-up to Christmas.
In a letter addressed to all Heads of State, he invites them to make a symbolic gesture “towards our brothers and sisters who are deprived of their liberty and who are held eligible to benefit from such a provision”.
“So that this time marked by tensions, injustice and conflicts may be opened to the grace that comes from the Lord.”
This is the motivation reported in a statement issued on Monday, 12 December, by the Director of the Vatican Press Office, Matteo Bruni.
The request for clemency for prisoners has distant roots that go back to the Great Jubilee Year 2000 when Saint Pope John Paul ii asked the world’s rulers for a pardon for prisoners in the 11-page document for the Jubilee in Prisons.
It was late June, a little over a week later, when on 9 July Pope John Paul ii visited Rome’s Regina Coeli prison as part of the Jubilee of Prisoners, and in the name of Jesus who was “imprisoned, mocked, judged and condemned”, asked “the competent authorities” for a reduction of the sentence to allow prisoners to build a new life once out of prison”.
This request was reiterated again on 14 November 2002 to senators and deputies he met during his visit to the Italian Parliament.
Following in his predecessor’s footsteps, Pope Francis has shown his closeness to prison inmates in the course of many of his apostolic visits and in other instances, in particular during the Holy Thursday ceremony of the washing of the feet.
During the 2016 Holy Year of Mercy, on the occasion of the Jubilee of Prisoners on 6 November, at the Angelus after Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica with prisoners, he urged governments to grant them “an act of clemency”.
On that occasion, Pope Francis issued an appeal “in favour of improving the living conditions in prisons throughout the world, that the human dignity of detainees be fully respected.”
He also reflected on “the need for a criminal justice system that is not exclusively punitive, but open to hope and the prospect of reintegrating the offender into society.”
“In a special way, I submit for the consideration of the competent civil authorities of every country the possibility that, in this Holy Year of Mercy, an act of clemency be carried out for those prisoners who are held to be eligible to benefit from such a provision.”
Today, as we near Christmas, he issues a similar invitation.
By Salvatore Cernuzio