Prison ministry includes helping people after incarceration, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Nov 8, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- In addition to looking after the physical and spiritual needs of those in prison, Catholics have an obligation to recognize the humanity of those who have left the prison system and to help them get back on their feet, Pope Francis said Friday.

“As Christian communities, we must ask ourselves a question” about those who have been released from prison, the pope said Nov. 8, addressing Catholics involved in prison ministry around the world.

“If these brothers and sisters have already paid the penalty for the wrongdoing, why is a new social punishment placed on their shoulders with rejection and indifference? On many occasions, this social aversion is one more reason they run the risk of repeating their own faults,” he said.

Often when a person leaves prison, he or she finds themselves in a world which is foreign to them and which, at the same time, does not trust them, the pope continued. This can make it very difficult for them to find work and to make a decent living.

“By preventing people from regaining the full exercise of their dignity, they are once again exposed to the dangers that accompany the lack of development opportunity, in the middle of violence and insecurity,” Francis stated.

“True social reintegration,” he argued, begins with access to decent work, education, self-development opportunities, and health care.

But it is often easier and more comfortable to ignore or deny the injustices present in society than to try to create equal opportunities for all citizens, he said, calling it “a way of discarding.”

He said this is the same reason many places choose incarceration as a solution over trying to fix the root societal problems which lead people to crime.

Especially today, he said, societies are called to overcome the stigmatization of people who have served time in prison for their mistakes.

“Because instead of offering the right help and resources to live a dignified life, we have become accustomed to rejecting,” he underlined, and people do this instead of looking for and noticing what effort a person might be making to respond to the love of God in his or her life.

Pope Francis spoke about ministering to the imprisoned during an audience with participants in a two-day conference on Catholic prison ministry, organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The pope said he entrusted to the dicastery the task of making evident the Church’s concern for those in situations of suffering, including the imprisoned, but added that “it is not a task indicated only for the dicastery, but it is for the whole Church in fidelity to the mission received from Christ.”

The Church “is called to act permanently the mercy of God in favor of the most vulnerable and helpless in whom Jesus himself is present,” he said. “We will be judged on this.”

The conference took place at the Vatican Nov. 7-8 and was held to learn more about diocesan and local prison ministry in countries around the world, so that they can strengthen and improve through sharing ideas and experiences.

Pope Francis argued that prisons themselves also fail to properly reintegrate people into society, because they lack the resources to address the social, psychological, and relational problems imprisoned people often face.

Prison verpopulation is also a problem, he noted.

Pope Francis thanked those who serve the incarcerated, noting Christ’s words that “what they did to one of the least of my brothers, they did to me.”

“With the inspiration of God, each Church community is taking its own path to present the Father’s mercy to all these brothers, and to make resonate a permanent call, so that every man and society seeks to act firmly and decisively in favor of peace and justice,” he said.

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