(Vatican Radio) On the last day of his Apostolic Visit to Mexico Pope Francis travelled to the northern city of Ciudad Juárez, very close to the border with the US.
The first stop he made in Juárez was at the CeReSo n. 3 penitentiary where, speaking to some 700 prison inmates gathered to be with him, he said that he did not want to leave the country without greeting them and celebrating with them the Jubilee of Mercy.
Vatican Radio’s Veronica Scarisbrick is in Mexico with Pope Francis. She sent us this report - “Prophets from hell”:
Pope Francis arrived in Ciudad Juárez to the notes of the popular song ‘Cielito Lindo’ and the warmth of the people of this place. Once a hell hole dubbed not so long ago, ‘the murder capital of the world’.
The sun shone and Francis climbed into the fifth pope mobile of his visit to Mexico to reach the high security prison Cereso n 3 , the Centre for Social adjustment in Ciudad Juarez which houses 3.000 inmates.
Met by the prison authorities Francis entered behind bars and made his way to the tiny white chapel which stood out starkly in the strong light against the barren mountains.
And in the chapel he prayed giving the prison a crystal crucifix, symbol of the fragility of mankind. Praying together, through a TV feed, with other prison inmates watching right across the nation.
And then a group of inmates played a tango in honour of the Argentinian Pope, they’d been practicing for months. While all the while seven hundred others, among them women ( not all Catholics) stood by in their grey track suits.
One of them , a woman, took the floor and with a voice broken with emotion, spoke of mercy and hope highlighting how vulnerable and alone inmates feel. How the prison experience can transform one’s life . May our children, she said, never repeat our experience. Thank you Pope Francis, she concluded, for being with us today for bringing us a message of hope.
And when she finished fifty of the prisoners got a chance to embrace Francis. They seemed very controlled, a few had smiles on their faces, and all the while the ‘Cereso’ band played ‘Besame mucho’.
And by the time the men started walking up, the ‘Cereso ‘ band played a tango and the last of them gave the Pope a gift: a pastoral cross they had carved in wood, one he held on to for a moment.
And then Pope Francis who had looked thoughtful throughout spoke, highlighting how there is no place, beyond the reach of mercy, no space or person it cannot touch.
Mercy, he went on to say, reminds us that reintegration does not begin here within these walls; rather it begins “outside” in the streets of the city.
Mercy Pope Francis insisted, means learning not to be prisoners of the past. It means believing that things can change. We know that we cannot turn back but I wanted to celebrate with you the Jubilee of Mercy, because it does not exclude the possibility of writing a new story and moving forward. The one who has suffered the greatest pain, he insisted, and we could say “has experienced hell”, can become a prophet in society.
With the Pope in Mexico, I’m Veronica Scarisbrick.