Letters to Pope Francis from prison: “Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us…”

From Vatican Radio: 

Los Angeles County has one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the country. Up to 90% of the county’s juvenile justice youth are Latino or African American, and up to 70% of incarcerated youth nationally are said to have some kind of disability.

After witnessing the tragic lives of so many young people facing life without parole in a juvenile justice system where little rehabilitation takes place and with frighteningly high recidivism rates that continue into adulthood, Jesuit Father Mike Kennedy decided to set up the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (JRJI) to provide support and hope to juveniles with life sentences.

Through the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a series of meditative prayers helping people find God in their everyday experiences, the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative provides tools that allow prisoners to find healing and forgiveness and to recognize their lives have meaning and purpose.

When the young boys at the juvenile detention facility in LA heard of Pope Francis’ wish to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison with the young inmates there, many of them expressed their desire to participate from afar and in close solidarity to what the Pope was going to do in another juvenile hall.

To do this they have written letters to Pope Francis, thanking him for his gesture of love and service, praying for him – as he has asked all of us to do, describing the sadness of their lives in detention, and asking for prayers to help them endure the darkness and hopelessness of their situations… As Father Kennedy points out, some of these youngsters will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

We welcome their voices and publish the letters that will be read at a service Thursday evening with the Director of Novices and 11 Jesuit novices, each one washing the feet of an inmate at the juvenile hall where kids are sentenced as adults.

Dear Pope Francis,
Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us in Italy.
We also are young and made mistakes.
Society has given up on us, thank you
that you have not given up on us.

Dear Pope Francis,
I think you are a humble man.
When you read this letter you will have washed the feet of other kids like.
I am writing this letter because you give me hope.
I know one day with people like you us kids
won’t be given sentences that will keep us in prison
for the rest of our lives.
I pray for you. Dont forget us.

Dear Pope Francis,
I don’t know if you have ever been to where I live.
I have grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence.
I have seen people killed. I have been hurt.
We have been victims of violence.
It is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.
Pray for me that one day I will be free
and be able to help other youth like you do.

Dear Pope Francis,
Tonight we pray for all victims of violence.
The families of people we have hurt need healing.
Our families need healing.
We are all in pain.
Let us feel Jesus’ healing tonight.

Dear Pope Francis,
I know the same youth feet that you wash
are like me.
Drugs have been part of me life for so long.
We all struggle to be sober.
But you inspire me and I promise to be sober
and help others with the cruel addiction of crystal meth.

Read the rest. 


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