ROME — Pope Francis will visit a prison fortress outside of Rome used to house Mafia turncoats to celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday.
The Paliano prison is a maximum-facility located south of Rome, and the Vatican on Thursday said the April 13 visit would be “strictly private.”
The chaplain of the prison, Father Luigi Paoletti, told Vatican Radio the prisoners were surprised and touched by the announcement.
“The inmates have asked me for years for the pope to visit them,” he said, “They have written to him many times.”
Paoletti said the prisoners will give the pontiff an “extraordinary reception” and “are in love with this pope and want to hear his comforting words to them and their families.”
The inmates of Paliano prison are known as “collaborators of justice,” members and associates of organized crime groups who are cooperating with anti-mafia forces in exchange for reduced sentences.
Paoletti said the majority of them have started the “slow, long, and tiring” walk to reforming their lives, and feel Francis is accompanying them with a “sense of mercy, love, attention, and acceptance.”
Francis has campaigned against the Mafia since the early days of his pontificate, calling on mafiosi to “convert to God” during a Sunday Angelus address just weeks after becoming pope.
In July 2014, Pope Francis traveled to Calabria in southern Italy, to a town where members of a local Mafia group known as the ’Ndrangheta had murdered a three-year-old boy together with his grandfather and burned their bodies, in a case tied up with suspected drug trafficking, and declared mafiosi “excommunicated.”
During a visit to Naples in 2015, the pope asked the faithful not to allow youth to be corrupted by drug traffickers and thugs, and called on members of criminal gangs to “convert to love and justice.”
Francis’s visit to Paliano prison continues his tradition of visiting places on the peripheries of society for the Holy Thursday liturgy, a practice he began while in Buenos Aires when he was the archbishop.
Just a few days after his inauguration in 2013, he visited the Casal del Marmo youth detention center, where he made news by washing the feet of Muslim inmates.
In 2014, he visited Rome’s Don Gnocchi Center for the Disabled on Holy Thursday, while the following year he visited the Rebibbia prison.
Last year, he visited the center for asylum seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, where he washed the feet of Orthodox, Hindu, and Muslim detainees.