By Linda Bordoni
It was one of those meetings which are clearly at the top of Pope Francis’ agenda. Taking his time to hold hands and kiss babies as he made his way to the podium set up in a simple space decked with coloured ribbons and hundreds of paper origami doves, each one bearing the name of a prison inmate, the Pope set a gentle and joyful mood with simple gestures, eye contact and a smile.
Never lose hope or dignity
He told the some 650 inmates, many of them with babies and small children, never to lose their hope or their dignity just because they've lost their freedom.
Everyone is a sinner
Quoting from the Gospel of John in which Jesus says: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone” Pope Francis told the women that everyone is a sinner, and that change is always possible.
Prison sentences must offer opportunity for growth
Setting aside his prepared speech, to the applause of the women he said: “No one can take away your dignity'' and called for prison sentences to not just serve as punishment, but to be a chance for inmates to learn new trades so they can re-enter society when they have completed their sentences.
Without forgiveness we lose our humanity
And turning to Janeth, the woman who addressed him on behalf, she said, of “the almost 50,000 men and women deprived of their liberty in Chile,” the Pope said “thank you for your courageous request for forgiveness, for reminding us that without this attitude we lose our humanity. We forget that we did wrong and that every day is an invitation to start over”.
An appeal to women to bring forth the future
Pope Francis, the friend of the poor and of the discarded frequently visits detention centers during his apostolic journeys. Tuesday’s visit to San Joaquin in Santiago was his first-ever visit to a women's facility, and to his all-female audience he said: “As women, you have an incredible ability to adapt to new circumstances and move forward. Today I appeal to that ability to bring forth the future that is alive in each one of you. That ability enables you to resist everything that might rob you of your identity and end up by killing your hope.
A hope, Janeth said in her speech, that hangs on the fact that “We know that God forgives us, but we ask that society does so as well”.