Speaking to Italian prison police and and administrative staff, Pope Francis said life imprisonment without parole is a “problem to be solved.”

“Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.” – Hebrews 13:3

The Holy Father’s comments came during his audience with the police, staff, and chaplains of the Italian Department of Penitentiary Administration. Vatican City has no prison system and the Holy See works closely with them often.

Pope Francis focused his message on the “right to hope.” Addressing prisoners, he told them to have courage and to “never let yourselves be imprisoned in the dark cell of a hopeless heart, do not give in to resignation.”

“Put yourselves before the Crucified One, before the gaze of Jesus: before Him, with simplicity, with sincerity. From there, from the humble courage of those who do not lie to themselves, peace is reborn; the confidence of being loved and the strength to move forward blossom again. I imagine looking at you and seeing in your eyes disappointments and frustration, while hope still beats in your heart.”

He called on society to “never suffocate the flame of hope” for those imprisoned.

“It is up to every society to ensure that punishment does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects of reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed.”

Speaking on life in prison without parole, Pope Francis called it not “the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved.”

“If hope is locked up, there is no future for society. Never deprive anyone of the right to start over! You, dear brothers and sisters, with your work and your service are witnesses of this right: the right to hope, the right to start anew. I renew my thanks to you. Keep going, take courage, with God’s blessing, caring for those entrusted to you”

Finally, he thanked prison chaplains and Catholic volunteers for being “the bearers of the Gospel within the walls of prisons,” telling them “enter the most difficult situations with the sole strength of a smile and a heart that listens.”

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