Pope pushes for prison reform

Ex-cons have holy ally in Pope Francis

CORRECTS DATE - Pope Francis reads his homily while celebrating high Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)

PHILADELPHIA (MEDIA GENERAL) – Pope Francis will visit inmates at Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on Sunday, September 27, before leaving the United States. The pontiff has made criminal justice one of his marquee messages, calling on lawmakers to focus funds and efforts on rehabilitating convicted criminals.

Dr. Jonathan Reyes of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops cites Pope Francis’s past exhortations for empathy, telling the faithful, “If we made different decisions, we could be right there. That could be me.”

As church leaders point out, criminal records often follow inmates outside prison walls, eliminating certain employment opportunities and contributing to a cycle of criminality.

Washington, DC Archbishop Donald Wuerl pointed to programs like Catholic Charities’ Welcome Reentry Program as part of the remedy. It pairs up inmates with volunteer mentors with the goal of easing reintegration.

Wuerl says Welcome Home ensures the community is “able to be there with all of our neighbors in welcoming those who have paid their debt and are now ready to take on life with all of us.”

Rudy Washington has participated in the Welcome Home D.C. affiliate program since leaving prison five years ago. He calls it “a God-given program,” after being paired up with mentor Floyd Price, who credits his grandmother for inspiring his lifetime of prison ministry involvement.

Over the last half-decade Washington and Price have navigated the education, medical and legal systems. And when Price wasn’t able to make their scheduled meetings, he lined up three members of his church to connect with Washington.

Price will continue as Washington’s mentor until he finishes his GED and becomes a certified addiction specialist. After that, Washington plans to give back by becoming a mentor himself.

As Pope Francis visits Philadelphia’s largest prison and urges compassion for prisoners, Washington shared his own advice to those facing the same challenges he once did: “Say your prayers. Get to a meeting.  And be of service.”

For continued coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia, follow @markpmeredith and @chanceseals on Twitter.

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