Pope Francis defends prisoners from social stigma in a juvenile Panama prison

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Friday was a day full of emotion and enthusiasm. Before visiting a juvenile detention center, the pope stopped at a school to visit more than 400 Cuban pilgrims present at WYD.

The meeting was not scheduled and the Cuban pilgrims were filled with excitement. The pope wanted to personally thank them for attending this global event. 

Although Pope Francis visited Cuba in 2016, the state is very reserved about religious freedom. This is why it was considered historic that more than 400 Cubans could travel to Panama.

Afterwards, Pope Francis got into his vehicle for one of the most emotional meetings of the trip. He visited the Herons juvenile detention center. It offers rehabilitation to nearly 200 young prisoners, most suffering from drug addiction. At the center they begin a reintegration process through professional training courses and psychological assistance.

Pope Francis arrived at the center with messages full of hope. He told them not to be discouraged by the whisperers and gossipers who criticize them for the mistakes they made; and who do not give them a second chance.

“Where people’s lives are concerned, it seems easier to post signs and labels that petrify and stigmatize not only people’s past but also their present and future. We label people, don't we? 'This person is like this. They did this and that, therefore it is over for them.' And then these people they label have to carry that sign for the rest of their days. This is how those who murmur and gossip act.” “Signs that ultimately serve only to divide: 'these people are good and those are bad. These people are the righteous and those the sinners.' Jesus does not accept it. This culture of adjectives. We love giving adjectives to people.”

The pope said that a society is lost when it spends its energies on criticizing and murmuring because it divides. He said that whoever believes in people looks for ways to unite and overcome differences.

At the end of his speech he received several gifts from the inmates such as this license plate with the initials Vatican City State in Italian. 

The pope also spent a lot of time hearing several of the young prisoners confessions.

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