World Youth Day, Panama 2019. Image Via YouTube

‘I was in prison and you visited me’

Panama hosted the 2019 World Youth Day from 22 to 27 January this year. The theme was ‘I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38). Other themes included migration, Indigenous people, the environment and the role of women in our Church.

More than 200,000 participants from 155 countries attended. But not everyone could attend, including the 150 inmates at Las Garzas de Pacora young offender’s detention center.

So the Holy Father visited these young people, in response to the Gospel’s call to clothe the naked, visit the sick and comfort the imprisoned. And in doing so, he showed them that: ‘nobody, no situation and no place is beyond God’s care’.

A bigger purpose

In a penitential service, during which more than one young inmate wept, Pope Francis told them how heaven rejoices for anyone who repents their sins. “You have a bigger purpose,” he told them. And he reinforced the message that God “does not look at labels and prison terms” but only sees daughters and sons.

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama called Pope Francis’ meeting with young detainees: “a very special event”. And there’s no doubt that Pope Francis’ visit brought a message of hope and inclusion to young people who often feel hopeless and excluded. In his homily, Pope Francis said that Jesus ‘asks us, as he always does, to lift our eyes to a horizon that can renew our life, that can renew our history.

All of us… have a horizon. All of us. Someone may say: “I do not have one”. Open the window and you will find it, open the window of love which is Jesus and you will find him.’

As our Lenten journey approaches, we remember Jesus’ message: ‘I was in prison and you came to see me’. We can reach out to those who are separated from society, or trapped in hopelessness that life can never improve.

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