(Vatican Radio) Los Angeles County has one of the highest youth incarceration rates
in the country. Up to 90% of the county’s juvenile justice youth are Latino or African
American, and up to 70% of incarcerated youth nationally are said to have some kind
After witnessing the tragic lives of so many young people facing
life without parole in a juvenile justice system where little rehabilitation takes
place and with frighteningly high recidivism rates that continue into adulthood, Jesuit
Father Mike Kennedy decided to set up the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (JRJI)
to provide support and hope to juveniles with life sentences.
Through the Spiritual
Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a series of meditative prayers helping people
find God in their everyday experiences, the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative
provides tools that allow prisoners to find healing and forgiveness and to recognize
their lives have meaning and purpose.
When the young boys at the juvenile
detention facility in LA heard of Pope Francis’ wish to celebrate the Holy Thursday
Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison with the young inmates
there, many of them expressed their desire to participate from afar and in close solidarity
to what the Pope was going to do in another juvenile hall.
To do this they
have written letters to Pope Francis, thanking him for his gesture of love and service,
praying for him – as he has asked all of us to do, describing the sadness of their
lives in detention, and asking for prayers to help them endure the darkness and hopelessness
of their situations… As father Kennedy points out, some of these youngsters will spend
the rest of their lives in prison.
We welcome their voices and publish the
letters that will be read at a service Thursday evening with the Director of Novices
and 11 Jesuit novices, each one washing the feet of an inmate at the juvenile hall
where kids are sentenced as adults.
Dear Pope Francis, Thank you for
washing the feet of youth like us in Italy. We also are young and made mistakes. Society
has given up on us, thank you that you have not given up on us.
Pope Francis, I think you are a humble man. When you read this letter you will
have washed the feet of other kids like. I am writing this letter because you give
me hope. I know one day with people like you us kids won't be given sentences
that will keep us in prison for the rest of our lives. I pray for you. Dont
Dear Pope Francis, I don't know if you have ever been to
where I live. I have grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence. I
have seen people killed. I have been hurt. We have been victims of violence. It
is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness. Pray for me that one day I will
be free and be able to help other youth like you do.
Dear Pope Francis, Tonight
we pray for all victims of violence. The families of people we have hurt need healing. Our
families need healing. We are all in pain. Let us feel Jesus' healing tonight.
Pope Francis, I know the same youth feet that you wash are like me. Drugs
have been part of me life for so long. We all struggle to be sober. But you
inspire me and I promise to be sober and help others with the cruel addiction of
Dear Pope Francis, My many friends are in two different
maximum security prisons in one of our states 33 state prisons.Calif. I am writing
to tell you that I feel bad that more youth of color are in prison in our state than
any other place in the world. I am inviting you to come here next year to wash
our feet, many of who have been sentences to die in prison. God bless you.
Pope Francis, I read that the harshest sentence that a youth can receive in
Italy is 20 years. I wish this was true here. I hope I hear back from you. I
have been catholic and glad I am catholic because I have a pope like you. I
will pray for you every day because we need examples of God like you are in this
Dear Pope Francis, I am glad you picked the name Francis.
When I was little I read about St.Francis. He is a cool saint. He was a man of peace
and simplicity. I am praying to you that you pray that we have peace in our gang
Dear Pope Francis, When Jesus washed the feet
of his friends he gave an example of humility. I have been raised to believe that
it is only with respect in hurting your enemy that you are a man. Tonight you and
Jesus show me something in this washing of the feet something very different. I hope
we kids learn from this.
Dear Pope Francis, I have never been to Rome.
I do not know if it is near Los Angeles because all my youth I have only known
my neighborhood. I hope one day I will be given a second chance and receive a
blessing from you and maybe even have my feet washed on Holy Thursday.
Pope Francis, I know you have a good family. I am writing this letter to you because
I know that my family is suffering because of me. I know have done some bad things
but I am not a bad kid and when last year in our big state we not a new law called
SB9 this made me family happy because this is a beautiful message that we kids deserve
a second chance.
Dear Pope Francis, From reading I know that us kids
are capable of making decisions like older people do. I have seen pictures of brains
of kids and adults. I am asking you as Pope to help us and help other people
understand we can change and want to change.