Following prison riots in Italy, Pope Francis offered Mass for prisoners and persecuted Christians on Wednesday during his televised daily Mass.
“Today, in a special way, I would like to pray for those who are in prison, for our brothers and sisters … they suffer, and we must be near to them in prayer, asking that the Lord might help them and console them in this difficult moment,” Pope Francis said March 11 at the start of Mass in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta.
Twelve inmates have died in Italy in the past three days as prison riots broke out in response to Italian government restrictions put in place to deter the spread of the coronavirus that has infected 10,000 people in the country.
The Italian government decree signed March 8 that suspended all public religious ceremonies also denied prisoners the right to receive visitors, including family members, in prisons.
Prisoners began setting fires, taking hostages, and raiding prison medical clinics in prisons in northern Italy on March 8 in protest of the changes.
In a Modena prison, a total of nine prisoners died as a result of the unrest, and in Rieti, north of Rome, three prisoners died of overdoses of drugs stolen from the prison clinic, according to Reuters. Fifty prisoners escaped from a prison in Foggia in southern Italy.
Pope Francis announced on March 10 that this year’s meditations for the papal Way of the Cross in Rome on Good Friday will include reflections on those who are suffering as prisoners today.
The meditations were written by Fr. Marco Pozza, the chaplain of the Due Palazzi prison in Padua, Italy. As of March 11, the annual Via Crucis at the Colosseum is still scheduled to take place in Rome in one month.
The nationwide quarantine and suspension of all public Masses in Italy will lift on April 3, barring further government restrictions.
Pope Francis thanked the parish of Due Palazzi prison for working together with the entire prison community to write the Via Crucis meditations during his livestreamed Wednesday audience. He said that he read the draft on March 10 and was thankful for the depth of the meditations.
In his morning homily, Pope Francis reflected in particular about the suffering of imprisoned persecuted Christians, and the suffering of Christ himself.
“Jesus tells the apostles that he will be sentenced to death, and will be mocked, scourged, crucified,” Pope Francis said.
“We think of the persecutions of so many saints, of so many Christians, who not [only] are killed, but also are made to suffer and are humiliated all the way to the end,” he said.
Pope Francis said that the devil is responsible for this persecution, calling it “the devil’s fury” at his defeat.
“Let us think of many Christians, how they are cruelly persecuted. In recent times, the newspapers spoke of Asia Bibi: nine years in prison, suffering,” the pope added.
Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Catholic woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy against Islam. She was acquitted and released from prison by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018.
Francis warned that the devil uses vanity and the temptation of worldly success to lure people off of the path of Christ and to steer people away from the cross.
“Vanity, the worldly spirit is precisely the path that the devil offers to get away from the Cross of Christ. His own realization, careerism, worldly success: they are all non-Christian roads, they are all ways to cover the Cross of Jesus,” he said.
“May the Lord give us the grace to discern the path of the Lord, which is the cross, from the way of the world, which is vanity,” he prayed.