Three weeks ago, 500 letters from throughout the U.S., written by incarcerated youth who received sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole (LWOP), were collected by Jody Kent in Washington, D.C., the leader of the national campaign to end LWOP, and hand-delivered to Pope Francis.

Recently, Jesuit Father Michael Kennedy, a leader in California’s effort to end LWOP for juvenile offenders, received a reply from the Pope, acknowledging his receipt of the letters. The stories of the youth and their plea that their sentences be reviewed in the light of justice and possibility of rehabilitation, the pope said, “moved me deeply.”

“I would ask you kindly to assure them,” he wrote, “that the Lord knows and loves each of them, and that the pope remembers them with affection in his prayers.” He also asked that the youth pray for him, for the needs of God’s people and “for the spread of the Gospel message of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ.”

“The Pope’s letter is strong and clear,” said Father Kennedy. “He believes our youth deserve a second chance.”