The pope provided prisoners a message of forgiveness and redemption. A central theme of his papacy has been the world's most vulnerable.
Pope Francis held a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday for some 1,000 prisoners from a dozen countries as part of the Vatican's Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, providing a message of forgiveness and redemption to those locked behind bars.
The pope said it was right for people who break the law to be punished, but that forgiveness and rehabilitation were often ignored.
"Sometimes, a certain hypocrisy leads to people considering you only as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer," Francis said. "We don't think about the possibility that people can change their lives. We put little trust in rehabilitation. But in this way we forget that we are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners."
A central theme of his papacy has been the world's most vulnerable, including the poor, migrants, imprisoned and elderly. He has also criticized unrestrained capitalism and individualism, as well as human destruction of the environment.
"At times we are locked up within our own prejudices or enslaved to the idols of a false sense of wellbeing. At times we get stuck in our own ideologies or absolutism of the laws of the market even as they crush other people. At such times, we imprison ourselves behind the walls of individualism and self-sufficiency, deprived of the truth that sets us free," he said.
Francis has urged governments to rehabilitate and provide amnesty to prisoners during the Holy Year of Mercy, which ends next week. He has also asked governments to abolish the death penalty because the Vatican argues only God can take a person's life.
Before Sunday's mass, the congregation was addressed by a prison guard, a mother whose son was murdered, a convicted murderer, and a priest overseeing sainthood process of an Italian judge killed by the Mafia.
In a powerful message of forgiveness, the mother spoke alongside the man who had killed her son. To overcome hatred, the woman has developed a relationship with the man who killed her son, going so far as to visit him and together go to her son's grave, where the murderer placed flowers.
cw/jlw (AP, dpa)