ROME — Pope Francis has given an interview ahead of his Holy Thursday visit to a prison, warning, among other things, against the hypocrisy of viewing inmates only as criminals beyond hope who deserve to spend their lives in jail.
“At times a certain hypocrisy pushes us to see in prisons only people who have done wrong, for whom the only path is that of the prison,” the pope said in the interview, published April 13, Holy Thursday.
However, as he often has before, the pontiff stressed that “we all have the possibility of making mistakes. All of us in one way or another have erred. And hypocrisy makes it so you think there is no possibility of changing one’s life.”
Francis lamented that there often seems to be a lack of trust in rehabilitation and the ability for prisoners to be reinserted into society. With this mentality, “one forgets that we are all sinners and, often, that we are also prisoners without realizing it.
“When we stay closed in our prejudices, or are enslaved by idols of a false wellbeing, when we move within ideological schemes or make absolute market laws that crush people, in reality you do nothing other than stand between the narrow walls of the cell of individualism and self-sufficiency.”
In doing this, one is “deprived of the truth that creates freedom,” he said, cautioning that “to point your finger at someone who has done wrong cannot become an excuse for hiding one’s own contradictions.”
The pope gave his interview to Paolo Rodari of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. It was published to coincide with the pope’s Holy Thursday visit to a prison on the outskirts of Rome for former members of the mafia, where he will wash the feet of 12 men and women serving various sentences, and who are both Christian and Muslim.
The interview focused largely on the pope’s many visits to prisons as part of Holy Week and during international trips, as well as his preference for the “discarded” and the rising danger of modern war and conflicts.
He said the idea of visiting prisons came largely through the example of the late Cardinal Secretary of State, Agostino Casaroli, who passed away in 1998 and would frequently spend his Saturday nights at youth prisons on Rome’s Via Casal del Marmo.
Francis, who has washed the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday in both 2013 and 2015, said the reason he is choosing to do so again is because of Christ’s declaration that “I was a prisoner and you visited me.
“The mandate of Jesus goes for each one of us, but above all the bishop, who is the father of everyone,” the pope said, noting that when some inmates express their guilt to him, he responds by telling them: “let whoever is not guilty throw the first stone.
“Let us look inside and try to find our faults. Then, the heart will become more human,” he said, explaining that priests and bishops must always be disposed to serve others.
When asked about his attention to those who are discarded, Pope Francis turned to the Gospel episode of the hemorrhaging woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed.
This scene, he said, reflects the fact that “Jesus gives health and freedom to the socially and religiously discriminated…Jesus’ heart is always for them, for the excluded, as among other things the woman was perceived and represented then.”
Although the woman was afraid to be seen, Jesus admired her faith and in meeting her gaze, he didn’t chastise her, but rather welcomed her with mercy and tenderness, seeking a personal encounter that gives her dignity.
The same thing goes for each of us when we feel “discarded” by our sins, the pope said, explaining that “we must have the courage to go to him, to ask for forgiveness for our sins and to go forward. With courage, like this woman did.”
When it comes to war and conflict, Francis said that in his opinion sin today “manifests itself with all its strength of destruction in wars, in the different forms of violence and mistreatment, in the abandonment of the most fragile.”
Echoing similar statements that he frequently makes, the Pope noted that it’s the poor and vulnerable that are the first to pay the price.
When faced with these situations in the midst of Holy Week, the pope said the only thing that comes to his mind “to ask with more strength for peace for this world subjected to arms traffickers who earn with the blood of men and women.”
Looking back at the violence of the past century, marred by two World Wars and numerous other conflicts, Francis said it’s hard to tell whether or not the world is more violent now than it was then, or if thanks to modern communications technologies we are simply “more aware of violence or more addicted to it.”
He stressed the importance of not responding to violence with violence, saying “violence is not the cure for our shattered world.”
Responding to violence with violence leads “at best” to forced migration and suffering, an imbalance in the distribution of resources, and difficulties for youth, families in hardship, elderly and the sick.
“In the worst case,” he said, “it brings the death, both physical and spiritual, of many, if not all.”