Pope Francis Denounces Society’s ‘Invisible Walls’ While Bringing Catholic Youth Day to Panama’s Juvenile Delinquents

Local residents line the roadside to greet Pope Francis as he rides past in his Popemobile en route to Las Garzas de Pacora detention center for minors, in Panama, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Francis will celebrate a special penitential Mass for Panama’s juvenile delinquents inside the Central American country’s main youth lockup. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Pope Francis on Friday denounced how society puts up “invisible walls” to marginalize sinners and criminals as he brought World Youth Day to Panama’s juvenile delinquents who can’t participate in the Catholic Church’s big festival of faith.

Francis celebrated an emotional penitential liturgy inside Panama’s main youth lockup, the Las Garzas de Pacora detention center. In a twist, he was also hearing the inmates’ confessions inside confessionals the detainees made themselves.

It’s all part of Francis’ belief that prisoners deserve the same dignity as everyone else — as well as hope.

“There are no words to describe the freedom I feel in this moment,” one of the inmates, Luis Oscar Martinez, told the pope at the start of the service.

In his homily, Francis recalled that society tends to label people good and bad, the righteous and the sinners, when it should instead spend its time creating opportunities for them to change.

“This attitude spoils everything, because it erects an invisible wall that makes people think that, if we marginalize, separate and isolate others, all our problems will magically be solved,” he said, once again making reference to the walls that seek to divide people rather than unite them.

“When a society or community allows this, and does nothing more than complain and backbite, it enters into a vicious circle of division, blame and condemnation.”

Francis has made a tradition of visiting prisoners during his foreign visits, and has long made prison ministry part of his vocation to minister to the most marginal in society. Just last year, Francis changed church teaching on the death penalty, saying it was inadmissible in all cases.

The change was in keeping with his belief that prisoners can always change and deserve chances for rehabilitation so they can re-enter society after serving their terms.

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Source: Religion News Service