Pope Francis’ visit to our Philadelphia region has ended but for me one aspect of his tour will stay with me forever.
I’m not Catholic…I am a Christian. But one quote attributed to this Pope should always be cause for reflection regardless of Faith…regardless of whether you even believe in any higher power at all:
“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
Yesterday as local stations continued their coverage I paused to watch his visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia. Attending the Pope’s speech were male and female inmates from across the Philadelphia Prison System, their families, prison staff and local officials. Also present were relatives of Patrick Curran and Robert Fromhold, the former Warden and Deputy Warden for whom the prison (formerly Holmesburg) is named…murdered in the line of duty by inmates in 1973.
Prison reform is one of this Pope’s top priorities and he relayed that by including himself in saying, “All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed. And me in first place.”
He continued, “I am here as a pastor but above all as a brother, to share your situation and make it my own.”
The message was clear during his fifteen-minute speech he feels strongly there is a critical need to emphasize hope and rehabilitation for and in every punishment. “He wants us to keep walking the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission, and that confinement is not the same thing as exclusion.”
Further, “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities.”
But indeed on this day – as often we find so true in life – actions speak much louder than words.
At the conclusion of his speech the Pope made it a point to wade through the audience and meet with each and every prisoner and family member.
Seeing him interact with those incarcerated – and their families – was a wake-up call for anyone watching him move slowly and patiently among those in attendance…those behind bars are human beings. Their family members are human beings. We so often mentally throw away the key for all concerned when we hear of someone sentenced to serve time.
The local press reminded us the United States houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates but only 5 percent of the world’s population. That fact should indeed demand our immediate attention.
I saw the peaceful and hopeful looks on the faces of those inmates and their families as they met with Pope Francis and was embarrassingly reminded – forever now – regardless of whom or what you believe in these people are human beings.
Human beings can do a lot better making the world less cold and more just.
The Pope highlighted yesterday one aspect of our society where we should start.