Pope: 'So many wars would never have happened if...'

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The Pope heading to the Regina Coeli prison

Pope: 'So many wars would never have happened if...'

By Iacopo Scaramuzzi/ lastampa.it

Coena Domini and lavender of feet at the Regina Coeli Prison. “A punishment that is not open to hope is neither Christian nor human”. He reveals that he will have surgery for cataracts and invites detainees to a “new gaze” open to hope.

“If only the kings and emperors of the past had understood” the teaching of Jesus who, washing the feet of his disciples, showed that "he who commands must serve", that if they had served "instead of commanding, being cruel, killing people", "so many wars would never have happened". So the Pope in the brief homily he gave during the Mass in Coena Domini on Holy Thursday - that this year he wanted to celebrate in the Roman prison of Regina Coeli, an occasion to remind prisoners that Jesus "cannot wash his hands" and that He "risks" for love to reach sinners and forgive them.

On his arrival to the ancient Roman district house in Via della Lungara, in Trastevere, around 4 p.m., the Pope first paused for over half an hour with the sick inmates in the infirmary and then presided over the mass that marks the beginning of the Easter triduum inside the prison.

"Jesus says "I have given you an example so that you may do what I have done to you": "to wash your feet", the Pope said in the homily broadcast by Vatican Radio Italy.

"The feet were washed by slaves at that time, it was a slave's task. There was no asphalt, there were no cobblestones, but dusty roads which got people’s feet dirty so at the entrance to the house there were slaves who washed their feet. It was a slave task. It was a service”. And “Jesus wants to do this service to give us an example of how we must serve one another,” Pope Francis says. Once, when they were on the way, two disciples “who wanted to climb the career ladder” asked Jesus to give them the most important places. After looking at them with love like he always did, Jesus told them they didn’t know what they were asking. The leaders of the nations, Jesus says, command, make themselves be served... we think of that era of kings, of emperors so cruel who had made slaves other people... but it must not be the same with you. “The one who commands must serve,” the Pope reminds us.

“Jesus overturns the historical cultural habits of that time, but also of our own day.” If only the kings and emperors of the past had understood Jesus’ teaching and had served instead of commanding and killing, "so many wars would never have happened," Pope Francis observes. To be at service. There are actually people who do not facilitate this attitude: superb people, hateful people, people who perhaps want evil for us, but they must be served more. And there are also people who suffer, who are discarded from society, at least for a time, and Jesus goes there to tell them "you are important to me". Jesus has come to serve us today, and the signal we need here in Regina Coeli is that he wanted to choose twelve of you, like twelve apostles, to wash your feet. Jesus risks on each of us. Know this: Jesus does not know how to wash his hands. He knows how to risk for his name is Jesus, not Pontius Pilate”.

"Look at this very beautiful image", the Pope continued pointing from the altar to a bronze sculpture by Fiorenzo Bacci who then left as a gift to the prison: "In going after the lost sheep, Jesus risks being wounded, Pope Francis asserts. Jesus took a risk with this man, a sinner, to come to me to tell me that he loves me. This is service. This is Jesus. Before giving us himself in his body and blood, Jesus risked himself for each one of us—risked himself in service—because he loves us so much.” And so with these feelings - concluded the Pope - we go on in this symbolic ceremony, before giving us his body and blood, Jesus risks for each of us and risks in service because he loves us so much".

During the rite, the Pope washed the feet of twelve prisoners. To choose them "we have followed two criteria, territorial and religious", Father Vittorio Trani explained, a Conventual Franciscan, who in September will have served 40 as chaplain of Regina Coeli. "Here, our detainees are from five continents and over sixty nations. For this reason, there will be four Europeans, four Africans (from Morocco, Nigeria and Sierra Leone), three Asians (two Filipinos and one Moldavian) and one Colombian. We wanted to give expression to the religious diversity in the prison: the twelve will be mostly Catholics, and then an Orthodox, two Muslims and a Buddhist". For them, Father Trani said again, "it is a great emotion. Meeting the Pope gives them the possibility of being in contact with an extraordinary figure: the head of the Catholic religion but also an extraordinary man who does not forget anyone". At the time of the blessing, the Pope addressed the detainees inviting each one to think in their own heart "the people on whom we want this blessing to come".

"Holy Father, what a beautiful gift you have given us!", the director of the prison, Silvana Sergi, commented at the end of the mass. "Welcome back to Regina Coeli, no need to say that today with your visit, you have truly illuminated this ancient prison. Often prisoners see it dark, full of suffering, anger, resentment, and with your presence you have sweetened all this, and I am sure that our souls, are all in your prayer. In these walls, when the sentence begins, guilt ends, and gradually one approaches grace. I believe that the grace is to succeed in hoping, hoping for a better life. Your visit helps us, above all, as operators, who with our work must instil hope. If we were not able to give hope our work would be unsustainable. We entrust ourselves to you, to your prayers, so that our community may continue with a Christian spirit on the path of hope and grant us the joy of our service".

After the director, a detainee, Alessandro, took the floor and on behalf of all the prisoners gave a brief greeting to the Pope: "This meeting is a family meeting for us, and for this reason we will talk to you like children do with their father. We feel that you bring us in your hearts and not to tell us that we have been good but to remind us that life is a precious gift and that God has forgiven us and invites us to spend it well. Today we want to praise thanks twice. First of all, thank you for this visit. We have been waiting for this for a long time. The second thanks is on behalf of all prisoners around the world for your attention to those who are in the prison. We cannot forget the jubilee of mercy, your visits to prisons, the constant references to prisoners. On behalf of all, thank you, thank you. We want to take up the exhortation you addressed yesterday to the faithful in St. Peter's Square to wash the eyes of the soul. God knows how much in environments like these, there is need for a new gaze”.

The Pope then wanted to take up the microphone, impromptu. "A new gaze, to renew one’s gaze", first of all. "This is good, because at my age, for example, cataracts come, and reality cannot be seen well. Next year - said Jorge Mario Bergoglio - I will have surgery for it. This also happens to the soul: a hard life, tiredness, mistakes, disappointments obscure the soul's gaze. And that's why what you said is true: you have to take advantage of the opportunities to renew your gaze. As I said yesterday in St. Peter's Square, in many villages when you hear the bells of the resurrection of Jesus chime, mothers and grandmothers lead children to wash their eyes for to have an open gaze for the Risen Christ. Never tire of washing your eyes, of doing that daily cataract intervention to your soul. All of you - continued the Pope - know the bottle of wine half full: if I look at the empty half, life seems ugly, if I look at the full half I see that there is still to drink. The gaze that opens to hope. One cannot conceive of prison like this without hope", continued the Pope, addressing the director of the prison. "Here guests are to learn or grow how to sow hope. There is no just punishment without it being open to hope - the Pope has stressed - is not Christian and is not human. There are difficulties in life, ugly things, sadness, think about your mother, father, wife, husband and children, sadness is ugly... but you must not let yourselves be dragged down. I am here to be reintegrated, renewed: this is hope. Always sow hope, this is your job: hope of reintegration. All punishment must always be open to hope. For this reason, death penalty is neither human nor Christian; every punishment must be open to reintegration, also to give the experience lived for the good of other people". Francis then concluded by thanking those who had worked on the preparation of the visit ("I know that you have worked so hard, you even had the walls painted, I thank you, for me it is a sign of benevolence and welcome"), before repeating: "I am close to you, I pray for you, you pray for me and do not forget the water that gives you new gaze, hope".

Before returning to the Vatican, Francis met some prisoners from the 8th section of the prison.

Francis is the fourth Pope to visit the prison in Via della Lungara after John XXIII in 1958, Paul VI in 1964, John Paul II in 2000. In past years, the Pope celebrated Mass in Coena Domini at the juvenile prison of Casal del Marmo (2013), at the Don Gnocchi foundation (2014), at the Rebibbia prison (2015), at the C.A.R.A. of Castel Novo di Porto (2016) and, last year, at the Palliano prison.

For privacy reasons, the Pope's visit was not video transmitted. "It is a private visit, period." Father Trani explained. "There was no Monsignors, no ministers, no one. The Pope meets with the detained and those who work with the prisoners".

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 13:59
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