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Prison according to Peter – VATICAN INSIDER – 19 December 2011


Ratzinger meets iinmates at Rome’s Rebibbia

Ratzinger’s visit to the Roman prison of Rebibbia: “Overcrowding is a double punishment”. The Pope answers questions put to him by the inmates who asked for amnesty, offered him a piece of cake and even gave him a hug
Gi. Gal.
vatican city
Despite the uncontrolled rumours going round regarding a worsening in Benedict XVI’s state of health, the Pope was, in fact, on top form during today’s visit to the Rebibbia prison. Indeed he transformed the pastoral visit to the Rebibbia New Complex prison in Rome, into an occasion for re-launching the prison pastoral care programme. Inmates shouted out “amnesty” in chorus, as the Pope walked by.

The Pope criticised the “overcrowding and degradation” that make “imprisonment an even more bitter experience.” Sixty years ago, Pius XII sent his Christmas greetings to the inmates via a radio message and the photo of the smiling John XXIII, surrounded by prisoners of the “Regina Coeli” detention centre in 1958 (he presented himself with the words: “I am your brother Joseph”) is still on display in many households. If it is true that the civilization of a Country is measured by the state of its prisons, it is equally true that the humanity of a pontificate is measured by the warmth of its visits to detention centres.

This is the second time Benedict XVI has visited a prison; his first visit was to the Juvenile Prison of Casal Del Marmo in Italy, four years ago. His visit happily coincided with Italy’s recent approval of a decree regarding the emptying of its prisons. It is not right that inmates should serve “a double sentence”, therefore the Pope asked institutions to analyse “structures, resources, personnel,” and ensure they were “tailored to the needs of the human person, even with the use of the non-custodial sentences or different modes of detention.”

The most moving moment was when the Pope embraced one of the inmates. The inmate had just a few seconds to give the Pope a quick hug and say in a faint voice “this is on behalf of all of Italy’s inmates.” The message was communicated to the Pope by Gianni, the prisoner who surprised Benedict XVI with his comments on the meaning of confession and absolution. With his boxer’s body and hands, ultra short grey hair and a pair of glasses that give away his passion for reading, Gianni is known throughout the prison as the “theologian”. “His response was very convincing. His Holiness explained to me that sin does not only have “vertical” consequences, it does not just involve the sinner and God, but has horizontal effects on the whole community,” Gianni said, showing that the title attributed to him was well deserved.

Today’s event gave Rebibbia’s inmates a chance to talk about their problems and to ask the Minister for Justice, Paola Severino, for “amnesty”. Sixty years ago, Pius XII sent his Christmas greetings to inmates who were Faithful to the Precept of Jesus. For centuries (especially when they united temporal and spiritual power), His vicars have been leaving their palace at the Holy See, to offer a word of comfort to inmates and to take a look at the conditions in which they live. Paul VI followed in the steps of his predecessor, Roncalli, in 1964 and climbed up the “Regina Coeli” stairs, which according to an old legend; one had to climb in order to really call themselves Roman. Next, it was Rome’s first foreign bishop in half a millennium, Karol Wojtyla, to make the very Roman pilgrimage to the prison world, at the beginning and end of his pontificate: the first was to Rebibbia in 1983 to meet his attacker Alì Agca, and the second to Regina Coeli during the Jubilee.

Two years later in Parliament, right in the midst of the prison overcrowding crisis, John Paul II spoke out in defence of inmates, asking that mercy be shown toward them. “We were encouraged by the fact that one of the first provisions the minister included in the decree, attempts to offer a solution to the problem of overcrowding in prisons,” Gianni said. He then commented on the emotions provoked on such an unusual day: “I am a man of faith. I was raised by priests and my neighbourhood’s church was like a second home to me. I pray on my own a lot and I often ask Jesus to take care of us. I also prayed a lot for today’s meeting, asking the Lord to give me the strength to speak to the Pope. I come across as strong and courageous but I was unable to sleep these past few nights because of the excitement.”

A Sachertorte and a strudel: these were the simple gifts Rebibbia’s inmates offered the Pope. A little afternoon snack after the meeting with the Pope in the prison chapel. Benedict XVI paid a brief visit to the prison, accompanied by minister Severino. He also made a quick stop at the prison’s social cooperative.


December 20, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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