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Pope Francis: ‘Prison conditions must be humane’

Pope Francis (AP)

Pope Francis has prayed for those who were killed in this week’s Brazil prison riots, saying penitentiary conditions must be “worthy of human persons”.

The Pope invited faithful at his weekly Wednesday audience at the Vatican to pray for the 60 who died in gang fights in the Brazil Amazon region prisons and their families, as well as inmates and prison workers worldwide.

He said he was “pained and concerned” about what happened in Brazil. He renewed his appeal so that prisons would be “places of re-education” and “not overcrowded but places for re-insertion” in society after sentences are served.

Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has pressed for better prison conditions and the need for rehabilitation of inmates. He has also denounced life imprisonment as a virtual death sentence.

Pope Francis greets children during his weekly audience (CNS)
Pope Francis greets children during his weekly audience (CNS)

The Pope also spoke on the subject of grief and mourning.

When people are hurting, “it is necessary to share in their desperation. In order to dry the tears from the face of those who suffer, we must join our weeping with theirs. This is the only way our words may truly be able to offer a bit of hope,” he said according to Catholic News Service.

“And if I can’t offer words like this, with tears, with sorrow, then silence is better, a caress, a gesture and no words,” he said.

In his first general audience of the new year, the Pope continued his series of talks on Christian hope by reflecting on Rachel’s inconsolable sorrow and mourning for her children who “are no more,” as written by the prophet Jeremiah.

Rachel’s refusal to be consoled “expresses the depth of her pain and the bitterness of her weeping,” the Pope told those gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.

“Facing the tragedy of the loss of her children, a mother cannot bear words or gestures of consolation, which are always inadequate, always unable to alleviate the pain of a wound that cannot and doesn’t want to heal,” he said. The amount of pain, he said, is proportional to the amount of love in her heart.

Rachel and her weeping, he said, represent every mother and every person throughout history who cry over an “irreparable loss.”

Rachel’s refusal to be consoled also “teaches us how much sensitivity is asked of us” and how delicately one must approach a person in pain, the Pope said.

Jeremiah shows how God responded to Rachel in a loving and gentle way, with words that are “genuine, not fake.”

The Pope said God answers with a promise that her tears are not in vain and her children shall return from exile and there will be new life and hope.

“Tears generated hope. This isn’t easy to understand, but it is true,” he said.

“So often in our life, tears sow hope, they are seeds of hope,” he said, emphasising how Mary’s tears at the foot of the cross generated new life and hope for those who, through their faith, became her children in the body of Christ, the church.

This innocent “lamb of God” died for all of humanity, which is always important to remember, especially when struggling with the question of why children are allowed to suffer in this world, he said.

The Pope said when people ask him why such suffering happens, he said he has no answer. “I just say, ‘Look at the crucifix. God gave us his son, he suffered, and perhaps there you will find an answer.'”

No appropriate words or replies will ever come from the head, he said, one can only look at the love God showed by offering his son, who offered his life — this may point the way to some consolation.

God’s word is the definitive word of consolation “because it is born of weeping.”