Pope Francis at the Prison

This story appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

by Michael Sean Winters

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More important than the words, although the words were beautiful, what most strikes me today about the Holy Father's meeting with prisoners in Philadelphia was the look of compassion and genuine interest on his face as he walked along the rows on inmates, bending down to shake their hands. He was engaged. These are his people. I could not help but compare the look on his face today with the more somber, formal, dare one say uninterested facial expression the pope could scarcely conceal as he was introduced to the fat cats of Wall Street last Thursday night at St. Patrick's Cathedral. 

The pope spoke about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. He said:

Life means “getting our feet dirty” from the dust-filled roads of life and history.  All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed.  All of us are being sought out by the Teacher, who wants to help us resume our journey.  The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand.  It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities.  It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.  The Lord tells us this clearly with a sign: he washes our feet so we can come back to the table.  The table from which he wishes no one to be excluded.  The table which is spread for all and to which all of us are invited. 

He repeated the words "all of us" more than once, identifying with the inmates as a fellow sinner. One wonders what went through the mind of the inmates? Our society does not give a damn about prisoners, but the Holy Father came to be with them. He was not rebuking the inmates. His presence was a rebuke to the rest of us.  

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