Pope Francis washes the feet of young prisoners

Vatican Radio

Pope Francis washes the feet of young prisoners

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrates the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in Rome’s “Casal del Marmo” juvenile detention facility and wash the feet of some of the young detainees.

While the practice of his predecessors has included washing the feet of priests or laypeople, the ceremony was normally held in either St. Peter’s Basilica or the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

It has been revealed that as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis used to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper – which reflects on the call to imitate Christ by serving one another- in prisons, hospitals or shelters for the poor and marginalized.

“With the celebration at Casal del Marmo, Pope Francis will continue that practice, highlighting “the commandment of love” and service through the ritual of washing the feet of others.

Laws protecting the privacy of the young people detained at the center mean no television cameras will be allowed inside the prison. So to try to get a feel of the place and hear, first hand, about the stories of some of the young people staying there, Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni contacted one of the volunteers who spends time with them.

Beatrice Carafa d’Andria, who describes herself as a mom and an English teacher, says a profound conversion some four years ago led her to start a journey as a volunteer at the juvenile detention facility, marking the start of a new vision of life and humanity…

Listen…

Beatrice says she contacted the prison Chaplain, Padre Gaetano Greco, who very simply invited her to come to Casal del Marmo the following Sunday, have a chat, and see how she could help out. She says when she went to meet him, she found an extremely warm and friendly person who suggested she start volunteering with the group. She’s been doing just that ever since and says she finds the experience extremely rewarding.
At the beginning, Beatrice says, it is hard because there are preconceived ideas to overcome. “We tend to think of people, who are in prison as criminals, but when you start speaking to them and exploring their personal stories and life experiences you realize they are not criminals. They are just people who have made a mistake, people who are unaware of what they are doing, people who need help. This really changed my view of what it means to be convicted for a crime”.

Casal del Marmo is a juvenile prison. The young people who spend time there are between 14 and 21 years of age. They are boys and girls, both Italian and from abroad. They all come from extremely difficult backgrounds.

Beatrice says some of them cross the Mediterranean from North Africa by boat in search of a better life. Some of them get into trouble simply because they are looking for food, for survival and some of them end up in prison.

She describes Casal del Marmo: a three-building complex. One for the girls, one for the younger boys and one for the elder boys. In average it hosts some 60 people and they come and go. Most of them don’t stay for long although some of them end up being there for up to 2 years.

The average day of the young people foresees a seven o’clock wake up; they have breakfast and a doctor’s visit. Afterwards they have school from 9 to 12 and then they go to their cells until about 4pm when they start other activities like sports, carpentry etc. And then at 7pm they have their dinner and then back to their cells where they have a television. Sometimes they spend some time together in a common room, but they do spend a lot of time in their cells…

Speaking of her own work, Beatrice says it is twofold: on one hand she helps train new volunteers and explores what each volunteer can give to the individual situations. She is also an English teacher to the boys twice a week. It’s one of those activities that are parallel to the schooling. She says she has an average of 10 boys per lesson – who come and go. It’s very much a personal one-to-one experience for them. She says that more than teach English, she is there to listen…

“I’m there to listen to their stories, their fears, their hopes, their desires for the future. I really sense every single time I go that the idea of just sitting there in silence is such a gift for them.

Once I sat in silence listening to one of these boys and at the end he said “nobody has ever spoken to me this way before” and I said “but I didn’t say a thing”. This is what they need. Someone to lend an ear and who does not judge them, maybe give them feedback on what they said. This is so important for them”.

She recounts one occasion in which “I went there for my usual lesson and learnt that the evening before one of the students had attempted to commit suicide. There were about 8 boys in that lesson. They walked in and we sat at the table in silence for 1 hour. It was the most touching experience in my life…”

Regarding the visit of Pope Francis to the prison Beatrice says the boys are really excited “because it makes them feel special – which is a feeling they don’t have. The idea that “someone” so important is going to visit them and share his time with them really makes them happy”.

Beatrice says she will be speaking to them afterwards and finding out how they felt during the Mass and during the visit. Because he will also be speaking to them.
Beatrice narrates the story of one Romanian boy whom she had in her class. She says he used to come to class and just sit there. A very depressed boy. She would try to engage in conversation and he would say “everyone has always told me that I am worth nothing. That I have no future. This is the way my life is and when I leave here I am just going to continue what I am doing… so – she says – she tried to find out what it is that he likes, what he truly likes to do and found out that he likes singing rap music. So he started rapping in Romanian and, wanting to help him express his passion, Beatrice says she asked him to write a rap song in English so that he would learn the English and express his passion. And he did just that….

It’s called “I’m crossing the bridge” and this is how it goes:

“I’m not a mediocre guy
Some people think I am
They’re just not looking close enough
I’ve got cool talents man.

I know I ended up in jail
Because I made a choice
To follow some direction
Against my loving voice.

I’m full of virtues and amazing potential
Just listen to me baby, I’m really resourceful.

Forget about the past
I want to live in the now
It’s cool to live the moment and make the best of it: Wow!

I’m crossing the bridge
From past to future
From rain to sunshine
From darkness to light.
I’m crossing the bridge
From past to future
From old to new.

I’ve got so many virtues
I’ve got a heart
I’m going to list them all now
‘cause this is a new start:

Wisdom, humanity, love and courage
Justice, temperance and transcendence.
I’m going to shape my life around these awesome virtues

I know I have an opportunity to choose.
Creativity, open mind, prudence and courage
I’m strong and I know it and I’m going to do it.

I’m not what I did, what I did is not me,
It’s separate from my person
Why can’t you see?

I’m crossing the bridge
From past to future
From rain to sunshine
From darkness to light.
I’m crossing the bridge
From past to future
From old to new
That’s what I’m going to do”

Beatrice says her biggest desire is that one day this song will be broadcast and he will hear it from some place, “I don’t know where… “

What these boys are really looking for – she repeats – “is someone to listen and appreciate them as people. And not judge them for what they did”.

Beatrice confirms the fact that many of them return to the prison again and again. The way out is so difficult because most of them go back to where they came from.

Sometimes – she says – it does happen, especially if they go into a family community where they are guided by psychologists and educators and many of them do start a new path and create a new beginning for themselves.

But too many go back to living in extreme poverty and do not have the change to make that step and “cross the bridge”

She speaks of the reality of Borgo Amigò, a community set up by the Casal del Marmo chaplain, don Gaetano which is very successful in helping the boys that go there.
Beatrice points out that anyone can contact don Gaetano and ask to give a hand. She says they must be aware that it is a serious commitment. Volunteers go to the prison every Sunday morning from 9 to 12. They spend time in the common area with the boys. It is one of the only moments in which they have contact with people who do not work inside the prison. At 11 there is a Holy Mass until 12. And then the volunteers also organize parties, or theatre, or other activities which are very special to the boys. Volunteers are very welcome.

If you are interested go to Borgo Amigò’s website at http://www.chiediloaloro.it/le-opere/10

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