Visiting young detainees in a detention centre in Panama, Pope Francis after hearing confessions of five of them, celebrated mass and dedicated a special homily for the occasion.
The Pope brought up a page from the Bible where the Pharisees disapproved of Jesus’ behaviour and tried to discredit him as they accuse Him of receiving sinners and eating with them. He contrasted this attitude with the way Jesus approaches and engages with us, always giving us another chance instead of blocking any kind of change, conversion and inclusion.
Vatican News reported on the visit the Pope reserved for these young prisoners. He told them that “Sometimes it’s easier to post “signs and labels that ultimately serve only to divide: these people are good and those are bad; these people are the righteous and those the sinners”.
Pope Francis kept returning to the theme of encouragement. Pay no attention to those who tell you “you can’t do it”, he said, describing them like cloth-eating moths. Tell them, and tell yourself especially, the Pope insisted, that “you can!”.
God’s love, said the Pontiff, “has no time for complaining”: God’s love initiates a process of “integration and transformation, healing and forgiveness”, he said. By eating with sinners, Jesus “shatters the mentality that excludes, isolates, and falsely separates ‘the good and the bad’”. Because “each of us is much more than our labels”, said Pope Francis.
“A community grows sick when it lives off relentless, negative and heartless complaining”, he continued. “A society is fruitful when it is able to generate processes of inclusion and integration – building a future through community, education and employment.”
Pope Francis spoke of the benefits of rehabilitation and congratulated the prison authorities for the service they give to the young detainess so that they will be able to re-integrate in society once they have paid for their errors.
This is exactly what the Pacora Juvenile Detention Centre outside Panama City tries to do. A team of psychologists and social workers uses creativity and empowerment skills to prepare these youngsters for a life beyond the prison walls – hoping that once they leave, they lose their labels, and never come back.
On welcoming the Pope the prison authorities briefed on the work the detainees did in preparation for his visit.
They manufactured the chair on which the Pope sat in their carpentry shop. They prepared the different types of bread they gifted him in their bakery. They spent hours practising the songs they sang for him, painting a picture for him, carving a pastoral staff for him. They also manufactured the confessionals spread around the Costiera where the main events of World Youth Day are taking place.