(Vatican Radio) Following the celebration of Mass with thousands of faithful at Plebiscito Square, Pope Francis made his way to the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center of Poggioreale in Naples.
The Pope was welcomed to the center by Antonio Fullone, director of the Detention Center and it’s chaplain, Fr. Franco Esposito.
The highlight of the visit came as he shared lunch with 120 inmates of the prison. His 12 table guests included an Argentinean and the overseer of the prison, some of whom were given the opportunity to ask the Holy Father a few questions.
For his part, the Holy Father addressed the detainees, expressing his happiness at being able to visit them.
He spoke at length with them and engaged in a spontaneous "off-the.cuff" conversation.
In his prepared remarks that were handed to those present, the Pope said he came to bring them “the love of Jesus” who came to the world save everyone.
“At times you may feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all, but God does not forget his children, He never abandons them!” he said. “He is always at our side, especially in times of trial; He is a Father who is "rich in mercy", who always turns towards us his serene and benevolent gaze, always waiting for us with open arms.”
The Holy Father went on to encourage the prisoners, saying that no matter what mistakes they committed in life, the Lord never tires of showing them the path that leads to Him and that “not even jail bars” can separate them from God’s love.
“The only thing that can separate us from Him is our sin, but if we recognize Him and confess with sincere repentance, that very sin becomes the place of encounter with Him, because He is mercy” he said.
Acknowledging the many letters he receives from prisoners around the world, the Pope sympathized with them and the undignified conditions many find themselves in.
However, he also praised the work of the directors, chaplains, educators and pastoral workers who remain close to them. He also called for the development of a positive experience in prison life so that, once freed, detainees can contribute to both society and the Church.
Concluding his remarks, Pope Francis called on the prisoners to live every day in God’s presence. “Even in the midst of so many problems, even serious ones, let us not lose our hope in the infinite mercy of God and in His providence,” he said.