The Pope served Holy Mass at Maundy Prison in Civitavecchia Prison to commemorate the Lord’s Supper. The chapel also hosted a moving foot washing ceremony for nine men and three women of different ages and nationalities. The homily thought about forgiveness: “God always forgives!” The popes were greeted with balloons and applause from guests, prison police and authorities, including the Minister of Justice.
Salvatore Cernuzio – Vatican News
Balduz takes off her veil, kisses the pope’s hand and leans his forehead against it. He will do it twice. In Egypt, where he comes from, it is the expression of the highest gratitude. Francis had just washed his feet and the eleven other prisoners of the Civitavecchia prison, whom he had chosen this year for the Mass dedicated to the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. “Thank you”, murmurs the man, who finds freedom on June 8 after four and a half months. “Thank you,” replies the pope. Then he turns to Daniel, his son and companion from Fiumicino, who is 38 years old. He was president of the Association for Disabled Children, ended up in prison “for stupidity”: “During the pandemic, there was a loss of money and I had to commit a crime.” He was sentenced to two years and will soon return to his family. He wears a blue plastic rosary over a black turtleneck. After washing his feet, the pope invites him to pray every day. “Of course,” the young man assures him. He looks strong, but at the end of the celebration he is moved: “Such things happen to you once in a lifetime…”. “One thing I can tell you,” he adds with a Roman accent, “prison saved me, otherwise I would have done worse.” The other companions seated on the podium nod.
The pope washed everyone’s feet, repeating Jesus’ gesture at the Last Supper. A ceremony that touches us each time it is repeated. Three women sat on the podium among the eleven, including an older woman, assisted by a young black woman who also helped her receive. They don’t know each other, they come from different parts of this prison on the outskirts of Lazio, where there is a community of around 900 prisoners and staff. There are 530 prisoners, most of whom are women.
Only a few people entered the chapel to greet the pope. Many stayed outside leaning against the wall to film and greet the arrival of the white Fiat 500L with the Pope shortly before 4 p.m. “Ah, but it’s not a papamobil!” shouted the little boy after letting the other children fly yellow and white balloons. The pope got out of the car and was greeted by director Patrizia Bravelli, whom he had met several years ago. Exchange of words, presentation of some representatives of this institution and of the bodies present, including the Italian Minister of Justice Marta Cartabia.
The party is intimate, animated by songs sung by a choir of prisoners. Others act as ministers, others as readers. The Pope’s homily is totally uncontrollable, delivered in a low voice, and centered on the notions of forgiveness and service. The Bishop of Rome comments on the reading of the day and speaks of the sign of the washing of feet, which is “special” in this world: “Jesus washes the feet of traitors, those who sell him”, says Pope Francis. “Jesus simply teaches us this: we must wash each other’s feet… They help each other, without interest: how beautiful it would be if it could be done every day and for everyone.” “Without any other interest”, repeats the pope. “God forgives everything and always forgives! We are tired of asking for forgiveness.” “Ask Jesus for forgiveness,” Pope Francis urges: “There is a Lord who judges, but it is a special judgment: the Lord judges and forgives.” Finally, he urges us to follow him with a “desire to serve and forgive”.
The director talks about hope
The homily ended with a long pause of silence. On the contrary, there was loud applause in the chapel when a young man sang to the intercession of the faithful: “For our most fragile species who have lost their lives in prison, that the Lord may accept them into his loving embrace and lights up their faces with happiness.” Applause in memory of those who have not lived. This is a sign of the strong sense of belonging inmates have. The warden herself says so in her greeting, without deny the problems of “home”: those that come from outside – violence, mental disorders, addictions, social exclusion – those that inevitably take place inside. “There is a diverse and complex humanity in which we see a lot of fragility”, says the woman, who speaks of “restarts”. New lives, new hopes, new goals.
Greetings, songs, applause
František listens, nods, smiles and looks with interest at the many gifts he has received: baskets of plants and flowers, sculptures in wood and copper wire, pencil drawings. “It’s bad material.” Everyone present receives a rosary. Some ask both to be able to give one to their wife or partner when they return home. The young man, very young and bearded, held his own rosary and asked the pope to bless it. The Pope tries to arrest everyone, and as he leaves, a crowd gathers around him, held back by police and gendarmes. The congregations again, applauding again, again shouting “Vive le Pape!”. To the east are the nuns who serve in prison, but are so excited to see the pope that they cannot say a word. The Pope jokes with them and a group of teachers, then leaves for a small building in the complex, which is used to meet relatives and friends.
Embracing employees and their children
Here, František meets prisoners from the high security ward: they are less than fifty, they are of different ages and have different stories. The Pope jokes with some of them, for example men with a patch on their nose say: “Did they hit you? He bursts out laughing and shakes the pope’s hand. The older man opened the envelope and showed several photos: “These are my grandchildren, I have never seen them.” This was followed by a welcome from officials and some staff from the facility, including a group of nurses. In the middle is a special chair, which the pope only used to sign the memorial book. He goes around people: he blesses families, strokes children on the face, collects drawings and confidential testimonies and the tears of a woman, wife of a police officer who lost both her parents a few days ago.
“Thanks for what you do”
These are snapshots, glimpses that are enough for the community of Civitavecchia to write entire chapters of each of their lives. “I can’t believe you came here, Holy Father,” said the guard, leaning against the pope’s car. All this takes less than two hours, but it seems to be much longer. Around 5:45 p.m., Pope Francis is already on his way to Rome. Before crossing the gate, the car stops in front of a man who asks him for a selfie. She expresses her gratitude to the director for everything that happens there: “Thank you, thank you for what you do, and keep going.”