Pope encourages prisoners to never lose hope

2 mins read
Pope Prison Venice
Pope Francis greets female detainees in the courtyard of the Giudecca women's prison in Venice April 28, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VENICE, Italy (CNS) — The rusted wrought iron frame and grate of an old well became a garden of crocheted flowers inside the courtyard of the Giudecca women’s prison in Venice. The handmade garlands also adorned the archways’ brick columns and copper drainpipes.

Some 80 female detainees, prison staff and volunteers applauded and smiled when Pope Francis told them he wanted to meet them first on his one-day visit to Venice on April 28 to tell them, “You have a special place in my heart.”

Rather than being a stiff, formal affair, he said, he wanted their moment together to be a chance to “give each other time, prayer, closeness and fraternal affection.”

“Today we will all leave this courtyard richer — perhaps the one who will leave richer will be me — and the good we will exchange will be precious,” said the pope, who has visited over a dozen prisons in his 11-year-long pontificate.

“Prison is a harsh reality and problems such as overcrowding, the lack of facilities and resources and episodes of violence, give rise to a great deal of suffering there,” he said.

Pope encourages women to start again

But the women’s time in detention can also become an occasion of “moral and material rebirth” because no one can ever take away a person’s dignity, he said. Instead, their dignity can be promoted through mutual respect and “the nurturing of talents and abilities, perhaps dormant or imprisoned by the vicissitudes of life, but which can re-emerge for the good of all and which deserve attention and trust.”

It can be a time for a courageous look at and an evaluation of one’s own life, to start again, “putting brick upon brick, together, with determination,” he said. “Therefore, it is fundamental also for the prison system to offer detainees the tools and room for human, spiritual, cultural and professional growth, creating the conditions for their healthy reintegration.”

Pope Francis visits the Holy See’s pavilion for the Venice Biennale art exhibition at the Giudecca women’s prison in Venice April 28, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis urged the women to be brave, never to give up and always look to the future with hope. “I like to think of hope as an anchor that is anchored in the future, and we have the rope in our hands, and we go forward with the rope anchored in the future.”

Several women presented the pope with gifts they and other detainees made in the prison’s different workshops. One basket was filled with samples of their soaps, shampoos and other natural products and a red bag contained a handmade white zucchetto tailored by the women.

The pope also received a small basket filled with white and yellow crocheted roses made by the same women who decorated the courtyard. There was one red rose in the basket, an unidentified volunteer said, to symbolize the fight against violence against women.

The women’s prison, located on Giudecca Island, south of the historic center of Venice, was the site of the Holy See’s pavilion for the Venice Biennale art exhibition, which runs from April 20 to Nov. 24.

The women were encouraged to contribute to the exhibit, and one unidentified detainee told the pope they were “shocked and full of joy” to be asked to participate and to feel “useful.”

Cindy Wooden

Cindy Wooden is a journalist with Catholic News Service.