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Prison bars aren't stronger than God's love, Pope says to inmates

Rome, Italy, Mar 21, 2015 / 08:00 am (CNA/EWTN News) - During his one-day trip to Naples, Pope Francis made a stop at the local prison where he reminded inmates that God is rich in mercy and that nothing – even incarceration – can keep them from his love.

After spending the morning on March 21 celebrating Mass and issuing tough words on the city's notorious struggle with corruption, Pope Francis in the afternoon visited the “Giuseppe Salvia” prison of Poggioreale.

The Pope greeted the board of directors and the prison's police and employees along the corridor leading to the chapel.

He then greeted inmates in the square in front of the church and had lunch with a group of them, answering two questions that they asked.

Below is the full text of Pope Francis' remarks:

This encounter allows me to express my closeness to you, and I do it bringing you the word and love of Jesus, who came to the earth to make our hope full and died on the cross to save each one of us.

Sometimes it happens that you feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all: but God does not forget his children, he never abandons them! He is always at our side, especially in times of trial; he is a father "rich in mercy" who always turns his serene and benevolent gaze on us, always waits for us with open arms. This is a certainty which instills consolation and hope, especially in moments of difficulty and sadness. Even if we have done wrong in life, the Lord does not tire of showing us the path of return and encounter with him. The love of Jesus for each one of us is a source of consolation and hope. It's a fundamental certainty for us: nothing can ever separate us from the love of God! Not even the bars of a prison. The only thing that can separate us from him is our sin; but if we acknowledge and confess it with sincere repentance, even that sin becomes a place of encounter with him, because he is mercy.

Dear brothers, I know your painful situations: many letters arrive to me - some very moving - from penitentiaries all over the world. The prisoners too often are kept in conditions unworthy of the human person, and later they fail to reintegrate into society. But thanks to God there also directors, chaplains, educators, pastoral workers who know how to be close to you in the right way. And there are some good and meaningful experiences of inclusion. We have to work on this, develop these positive experiences, which make a different attitude grow in civil society and also the community of the Church. At the base of this commitment there is the conviction that love can always transform the human person. And so a place of marginalization, as a prison can be in the negative sense, can become a place of inclusion and of stimulus for the whole of society, because it is more just, more attentive to the people.

I invite you to live each day, each moment in the presence of God, to whom belongs the future of the world and of man. This is the Christian hope: the future is in the hands of God! History makes sense because it is inhabited by the goodness of God. Therefore, even in the midst of so many problems, even serious, let's not lose hope in the infinite mercy of God and his providence. With this sure hope, let us prepare ourselves for Easter, now approaching, (by) decisively orienting our lives to the Lord and keeping alive in ourselves the flame of his love.

The above text is published as Pope Francis' full, prepared remarks issued by the Holy See press office.

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