Pope Francis on Thursday sent a video message to youth in a prison in Argentina who are part of a program helping them attend university while in jail, praising the program and speaking words of encouragement for their futures.
Those in prison “are serving a penalty, a penalty for a mistake committed,” he said Aug. 24. “But let us not forget that, for punishment to be fruitful, it must have a horizon of hope, otherwise it is enclosed within itself and is only an instrument of torture, it is not fruitful.” Though “there are problems and there will be problems,” he continued, “the horizon is bigger than the problems, hope goes beyond all the problems.”
Pope Francis sent the four and half minute message to students in Argentina’s Ezeiza Federal Penitentiary who are attending university while in prison. Located some 20 miles from where he used to live in Buenos Aires, the prison was once visited by the Argentine pope when he was a cardinal.
As the message reveals, the Pope has stayed in contact, still making weekly Sunday phone calls to the jail. He sent the message to mark the occasion of the opening of a musical course for inmates, carried out in cooperation with the University of Buenos Aires. “I am aware of all your activities and it gives me great joy the existence of this space, a space of work, of culture, of progress, it is a sign of humanity,” Francis said. “It is a breath of life that is happening in the prison, among you.”
The Pope listed several people who were influential in the formation of the new music course, thanking them for their work. This course, along with the rest of the education they are receiving, provides a beacon of hope in its preparation for life after imprisonment, he said, and is the only way for punishment to be truly fruitful. Punishment must have hope for “social reintegration,” he continued, which requires social formation, such as the program found in this particular prison.
“With this new music course you are looking at social reintegration, now you are already reintegrating with your studies, with the University of Buenos Aires, you are looking at social reintegration. It is a punishment with hope, a punishment with a horizon.” This doesn’t make life easy, he was careful to articulate, and though it is a gift, he said, it’s one that is not easy to preserve, “that you must conquer every day.” It’s given to us, but “we must conquer it at every step of life,” he said. “A gift that is not easy to preserve. Have courage every day. There are a lot of difficulties, we all have them, however we care about this gift and we make it grow, we care and we make it flourish,” he encouraged.
Concluding, he told the students he prays for them and keeps them close to his heart, asking them “not to forget to do it for me.” “May God bless you and you continue on, with a smile. At the next call!”