For a few hours, St. Peter's Basilica was converted into a safe-haven for 1,000 prisoners, who traveled to Rome with their families and officials from their prisons. Together they received the Jubilee blessing.
With excited faces, they attended Mass with the pope, who asked them not to be prisoners of a past they cannot change, but to look forward to a future they can build through responsibility and God's help.
"First of all, there is the certainty of God’s closeness and compassion, despite whatever evil we have done. There is no corner of our heart that cannot be touched by God’s love."
The pope also asked society to do their part, to trust in the rehabilitation process and to help those imprisoned resume a normal life.
"Sometimes, a certain hypocrisy leads to people considering only others as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer. I say to them, every time I enter a prison, I ask, 'Why them and not me?' We are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners."
In the Basilica there was an image of the Virgin and Child, who was holding broken chains in His hands, the chains of slavery and prison.
For a moment, the prisoners were able to breathe in freedom at the Vatican.
Then, at the Angelus in the square, the pope once again spoke to them and asked for prison to not only be a place of punishment, but to be organized with the prospect of social recovery.
"I would like to make an appeal for the improvement of living conditions in prisons around the world, so that it fully respects the human dignity of detainees. In addition, I wish to reiterate the importance of reflecting on the need for criminal justice that is not only punitive, but is open to hope and the prospect of reinserting the offender into society."
The pope asked all governments of the world to mark the end of the Jubilee by a gesture of compassion toward prisoners who meet the conditions to be released, although they have not served their entire sentence.
Throughout the world, there are nearly 23 million prisoners. The country with the most prisoners is the United States, followed by China and Russia.