Teens in LA prison thank Pope for example of love

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 2, 2013 / 02:04 am (CNA).- After hearing about Pope Francis' Holy Thursday Mass where he washed the feet of juvenile detainees, imprisoned youth in Los Angeles wrote letters to the pontiff thanking him for giving them hope.

“Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us in Italy,” one prisoner wrote, “We are also young and made mistakes. Society has given up on us, thank you that you have not given up on us.”

Pope Francis made headlines recently after deciding to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass on March 28 at Casal del Marmo youth detention center in Rome, instead of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.

During his leadership of the Buenos Aires archdiocese, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was known to preside over the Holy Thursday liturgy in a prison, a hospital or a hospice for the poor and marginalized people.

He offered an explanation behind the gesture, telling the youth, “This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”

“But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me,” he added.

The Pope encouraged the young people in Rome to become more self-giving and helpful. “And thus,” he added, “in helping each other we will do good for each other.”

Just before performing the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet, Pope Francis told the youths to ask themselves ‘Am I really willing to help others?’

In an act of solidarity with the Holy Father, members of an organization dedicated to ministering to imprisoned youth – the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative – washed the feet of L.A. juveniles on the same day and read letters from the teens to the Pope in response to his gesture.

One inmate said that Christ’s example of washing the Twelve’s feet taught him “something very different” than what he was taught growing up which was that respect is earned by “hurting your enemy.”

“When Jesus washed the feet of his friends he gave an example of humility,” the teen wrote. “I hope we kids can learn from this.”

Another inmate who said he has “grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence,” asked the Pope to pray for him that, “that one day I will be free and be able to help other youth like you do.”

One youth asked for prayers for “all the victims of violence” especially the families of those he and other inmates “have hurt.”

Pope Francis' act of service encouraged the fight against addiction, one teen said.

“Drugs have been part of (my) life for so long,” he said, “But you inspire me and I promise to be sober and help others with the cruel addiction of crystal meth.”
Some of the prisoners thanked the Pope for his example in choosing the name Francis after the Saint of Assisi.

“He was a man of peace and simplicity,” one said as he asked the Pope to “pray that we have peace in our gang-filled neighborhoods.”

“I have never been to Rome,” one youth told the Holy Father, “I do not know if it is near Los Angeles because all my youth I have only known my neighborhood.” The prisoner said he hopes to one day receive a “second chance” and to perhaps “receive a blessing” from Pope Francis.

Another simply stated that he knows the Holy Father must “have a good family” and admitted that “my family is suffering because of me.”

“I know I have done bad things but I am not a bad kid,” the letter read.

One teen asked Pope Francis to “help us” by helping others “understand that we can change and want to change.”

The harshest sentence an Italian minor can receive is 20 years in prison, one inmate noted. “I wish this was true here,” he said, adding that he is “glad” to be Catholic “because I have a pope like you.”

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