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Pope Francis’ visit to Verona’s Montorio Prison: A message of hope

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Pope Francis spent time with 600 inmates from Verona’s Montorio Prison which faces some of the highest suicide rates in Italy.

He was greeted with an emotional address from one of the youngest inmates, who is just 22 years old.

Leonardo explained that many of his inmates weren’t “lucky enough to have a family or close friends” to support them, alluding to that being a factor leading people to prison.

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“For this reason, Your Holiness, let me express a dream to you,” Leonardo said.

“It would be wonderful if among us inmates, with all prison workers, both those who are in charge of security and those who accompany us on our path also with all volunteers, if we could also build relationships that have the sense of family, love and fraternity.”

Since November, five inmates in this prison have taken their own lives.

In February, many of the prisoners responded to this by going on a hunger strike, citing “overcrowding” and a “total lack of work activities” as the reasons for their protest. When speaking to the prisoners, the pope did not shy away from the hardships they endure.

“We know the situation in prisons, which are often overcrowded in my land, as well resulting in tensions and hardships.

“That is why I want to tell you that I am close to you, and I renew my appeal, especially to those who can act in this area, that we continue to work for the improvement of prison life.”

Despite the difficulties they may face, he encouraged each of them to continue living.

“Life is always worth living, and there is always hope for the future, even when everything seems to fade away. Our existence, the existence of each of you, is important, it is important. We are not material waste. Existence is important.”

In his closing, Pope Francis encouraged the inmates to talk to God and lean on one another in times of despair.

He then personally greeted many of the inmates and shared a lunch with them, the directors, police officers and volunteers.

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