ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO THE STAFF OF THE "REGINA COELI" CIRCONDARY HOUSE IN ROME
Paul VI Hall
Thursday, 7 February 2019
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am pleased to meet you and cordially greet you, starting with the chaplain, Father Vittorio Trani and the Director Dr. Silvana Sergi, whom I thank for their words. You represent the working community that serves the inmates of the Roman prison of "Regina Coeli": custodians, administrative staff, doctors, educators, chaplains and volunteers, accompanied by your family members. I express to each one my and the Church's gratitude for your work alongside the inmates: it requires inner strength, perseverance and awareness of the specific mission to which you are called. It's another thing. It takes prayer every day for the Lord to give you good sense: common sense in the different situations in which you find yourself.
Prison is a place of punishment in the double sense of punishment and suffering, and needs much attention and humanity. It is a place where everyone, the Penitentiary Police, Chaplains, educators and volunteers, are called to the difficult task of healing the wounds of those who, because of mistakes made, find themselves deprived of their personal freedom. It is well known that a good collaboration between the different services in the prison plays a great support for the rehabilitation of prisoners. However, due to the lack of personnel and chronic overcrowding, the laborious and delicate work risks being partly frustrated.
The work stress caused by pressing shifts and often the distance from families are factors that weigh down a job that already involves a certain psychological effort. Therefore, professional figures like yours need personal balance and valid motivations constantly renewed; in fact you are called not only to guarantee the custody, order and security of the institution, but also very often to bind the wounds of men and women whom you encounter daily in their departments.
No one can condemn the other for the errors he has committed, nor to inflict suffering on offending human dignity. Prisons need to be more and more humanized, and it is painful to feel that many times they are considered as places of violence and illegality, where human evilness rages. At the same time, we must not forget that many prisoners are poor people, they have no references, they do not have security, they have no family, they do not have the means to defend their rights, they are marginalized and abandoned to their destiny. For society, inmates are uncomfortable individuals, they are a waste, a burden. This is painful, but the collective unconscious takes us there.
But experience shows that prison, with the help of prison workers, can truly become a place of redemption, resurrection and change of life; and all this is possible through paths of faith, work and professional formation, but above all of spiritual closeness and compassion, following the example of the good Samaritan, who has stooped to look after his wounded brother. This attitude of proximity, which finds its root in the love of Christ, can favor in many prisoners the trust, the awareness and the certainty of being loved.
Moreover, the punishment, every penalty, can not be closed, must always have "the open window" for the hope, both from prison and from every person. Everyone must always have the hope of partial reintegration. Let's think of the life sentences, too: "With my job in prison ...". Giving, doing jobs ... Always the hope of reintegration. A hopeless punishment does not serve, does not help, provokes feelings of rancor in the heart, so many times of revenge, and the person comes out worse than he entered. No. We must always ensure that there is hope and help to always see beyond the window, hoping for reintegration. I know you work hard, looking at this future to reintegrate everyone who is in jail.
I encourage you to carry out your important work with feelings of harmony and unity. All together, Direction, Penitentiary Police, Chaplains, educational area, volunteering and the external community are called to march in one direction, to help rise again and grow in hope, those who unfortunately have fallen into the trap of evil.
For my part, I accompany you with my affection, which is sincere. I have so much closeness with prisoners and people working in prisons. My affection and my prayer, so that you can contribute, with your work, to making prison, a place of pain and suffering, also a laboratory of humanity and hope. In the other diocese [Buenos Aires] I often went to prison; and now every fortnight, on Sundays, I make a phone call to a group of prisoners in a prison I frequently visit. I'm close. And I always had a feeling when I entered the prison: "why not them and me?". This thought has done me so much good. Why them and not me? I could have been there, but no, the Lord has given me a grace that my sins and my failings have been forgiven and unseen, I do not know. But that question helps a lot: why not them and me?
I warmly bless all of you and your loved ones; and I ask you to please pray for me, that I need it. Thank you!