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Prison or penthouse, Pope delivered a message of compassion to the US

Prison or penthouse, Pope delivered a message of compassion to the US

During his papal visit to the United States, Pope Francis packed in some huge events, leading a Mass attended by thousands, a White House visit, an address to Congress and a speech at the United Nations.

However, it was the more intimate moments of his trip that stuck in my mind and is the reason many Catholics like me have a spring in their step.

Pope Francis continues to demonstrate he is a man of the people, with a message of overwhelming compassion.

What made me sit up was his visit to a Philadelphia jail. With the sound of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues ringing in my ears, the pope’s speech to the 95 men and women there was powerful.

He said: “I am here as a pastor but above all, as your brother, to share your situation and make it my own.”

Francis has visited prisons in multiple countries but per capita, Philadelphia incarcerates more people than any of the other 10 largest cities in the US.

Around 2.2 million people are imprisoned in America. To put it in context, that’s half the population of Scotland.

However, it’s the system of jailing people pre-trial and holding those who cannot afford to pay bail that targets the very people Pope Francis has shown the most concern for the poor.

At the prison he visited, roughly 80% of the inmates have yet to be convicted.

According to prisonpolicy.org the average income prior to incarceration was $19,185 a year in 2014.

His compassion and support for prisoners’ rights could trigger renewed talks on jail reform as the issue is gaining an unusual level of bipartisan support in Washington.

Pope Francis is presenting the Catholic Church teachings, including hot topics such as marriage, family and life issues, in an accessible, approachable, forgiving and kind way.

He reminds us the Church acts as what he calls “a field hospital” there for everyone, whether you are in prison or a penthouse.

This message is a huge opportunity for the Catholic Church in Scotland, still recovering from a series of serious setbacks.

Scotland has gone from having one of the most elderly bishops’ conferences in Europe to having an entirely new set who are younger, energetic and signed up to the call of Pope Francis to evangelise and not accept decline is inevitable.

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