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Pope to prisoners: I stand before you a brother

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) Pope Francis delivered a message to inmates at a correctional facility here: It is a "lie that no one can change."

Pope Francis shakes hands with an inmate as he meets with prisoners at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia on September 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-PRISONERS, originally transmitted on Sept. 27, 2015.
Pope Francis embraces an inmate as he meets with prisoners at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, on September 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-PRISONERS, originally transmitted on Sept. 27, 2015.

Pope Francis embraces an inmate as he meets with prisoners at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia on September 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-PRISONERS, originally transmitted on Sept. 27, 2015.

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) It was a meeting of preachers and prisoners, of tattoos and crosses, of caregivers and criminals.

Pope Francis visited with 95 inmates at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility here, bringing with him a message of redemption, hope and encouragement.

“I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own,” he said, peering over his glasses at the men and women — all inmates — seated before him.

“I have come so that we can pray together and offer our God everything that causes us pain, but also everything that gives us hope, so that we can receive from him the power of the resurrection.”

Pope Francis shakes hands with an inmate as he meets with prisoners at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, September 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-PRISONERS, originally transmitted on Sept. 27, 2015.

Pope Francis shakes hands with an inmate as he meets with prisoners at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia on September 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-PRISONERS, originally transmitted on Sept. 27, 2015.

During much of the speech, the pope sat in a wooden chair made for him by some of the inmates in the prison workshop. He stood before it as he spoke, as though he wanted to get even closer to the men and women in prison-issue blue clothes. Bishops and archbishops, clad in black with red trim, sat to the pope’s right, sometimes looking at him, sometimes watching the faces of the prisoners.

The pope’s message was built around the New Testament story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. In Christian practice, washing the feet of another is an act of humility and compassion.

He told them it is not possible to walk the roads of life without getting one’s feet dirty.

Inmate David Hernandez, 39, of North Philadelphia prays during the Pope Francis visit at the Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/David Maialetti/Pool *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-PRISONERS, originally transmitted on Sept. 27, 2015.

Inmate David Hernandez, 39, of North Philadelphia prays during Pope Francis’ visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility in Philadelphia on September 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/David Maialetti/Pool
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-PRISONERS, originally transmitted on Sept. 27, 2015.

“All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from,” he told them. Then going off-script — as he did with great effect at Independence Hall and at the Festivals of Families, he added, “I am first among them.”

The prisoners seemed visibly moved. Some bowed their head, one or two had eyes that welled.

Before stepping down to shake the hands of many, one by one, he gave them a last message of hope:

They can be saved from “the lie that says no one can change.”

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

YS/AMB END WINSTON