Pope Francis provided a beautiful tutorial for religious leaders last week. And really, for all people of all faiths. Our pastors and rabbis and faith community leaders learned that it’s OK to talk about global warming, global economy, feeding the poor, and (gasp) caring about prisoners! Nay, not only OK…but essential!
My heart was touched when he not only paid a visit to prison (as did our President recently), but took time to shake individual hands, and then to speak to the inmates.
His message to prisoners was a simple one:
This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation.
His message to you and me was equally as simple, and profound:
Jesus invites us to share in his lot, his way of living and acting. He teaches us to see the world through his eyes. Eyes which are not scandalized by the dust picked up along the way, but want to cleanse, heal and restore. He asks us to create new opportunities: for inmates, for their families, for correctional authorities, and for society as a whole.
Now it’s time for all of us, from all faiths, to follow that example.
It’s time for church mission groups to remember that third world countries are not the only “fields ripe for harvest.” It’s time for church prayer groups to be reminded that persons behind bars must be regularly included in the list of prayer concerns. It’s time for church education leaders to remember to include leaders of prison ministries in their schedule of programs and speakers. It’s time to remind deacons and finance officers that prison ministry also costs money. It’s time to remind prison volunteer groups that only 15% of persons behind bars even receive a visit. It’s time to remind pen pal programs that thousands of lonely inmates would appreciate a simple letter once a month.
After all, says Pope Francis:
Life means "getting our feet dirty" from the dust-filled roads of life and history. All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed. All of us are being sought out by the Teacher, who wants to help us resume our journey. The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand. It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.