Pope is asking governments to grant clemency to prisoners at Christmas

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Pope Francis greets an inmate as he washes the feet of prisoners during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a prison in Civitavecchia, Italy, April 14, 2022. CNS photo/Vatican Media

VATICAN CITY. Pope Francis is writing to all the heads of state around the world, asking them to consider granting some prisoners clemency at Christmas.

The Vatican press office said Dec. 12 that the pope is asking government leaders to consider freeing or reducing the sentences of men and women they believe would benefit from such a gesture of mercy “so that this time marked by tensions, injustices and conflicts may be opened to the grace that comes from the Lord.”

The Vatican did not release a copy of the letter or explain what prompted it besides the approach of Christmas.

From his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and continuing after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis has made a special effort to maintain regular contact with prisoners, to meet them in Rome and on his trips around the world, and to phone and write to them.

At the end of his Angelus address Dec. 11, the pope gave a shout-out to “the detainees in the Due Palazzi prison of Padua: I greet you affectionately!”

In 2016, a group of inmates from the Padua prison were allowed to visit Rome during the Holy Year of Mercy; the pope granted them a private audience in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Then, in 2020, Pope Francis asked the inmates that frequent the prison’s Catholic chaplaincy to write the meditations for his Good Friday Way of the Cross ceremony, which was held in St. Peter’s Square because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, for most years of his pontificate, he has gone to a prison or juvenile detention facility on Holy Thursday to celebrate Mass and wash the feet of inmates.

Visiting the Gulf nation of Bahrain in November, the pope said the way a country treats prisoners “is a measure of the dignity and the hope of a society.”

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