I spotted a blog this week by a fellow journalist, Jim Conley, retired city editor for the El Paso Times. Conley commented favorably on Pope Francis’ visit to Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Conley describes sitting in his living room in front of his TV watching Francis deliver a message on his first visit of the day to what the journalist described as “the infamous Cereso prison.”
“He told the men and women that they were not forgotten and that they should focus on the future, starting anew,” Conley recalled.
“As tears streamed down the faces of supposedly hardened men and women, I sat in my comfortable living room, watching on TV, wept with them and for them,” he wrote. “Local TV coverage brought up a persistent question: Can a visit and some words by even such a person as the pope make a difference?”
Jesus himself answered the question 2,000 years ago as he personally reached out to hardened-heart types, some of them literally prisoners and others prominent religious leaders. His messengers and his Holy Spirit have been frequenting jails and prisons ever since.
The pontiff’s words carried important Christian themes like repentance and the encouragement to the imprisoned to open their hardened hearts.
This is the season in Christendom that abounds with hope that is available to anyone who opens her (or his) heart. Unlikely witnesses to his crucifixion — including a criminal being put to death next to him and a Roman centurion at the foot of Christ’s cross who exclaimed, “Surely he was the son of God!”
Said Jim Conley, acknowledging that he was not a Catholic himself: “I don’t see how anyone watching this — even one rejecting religion — could fail to see the value of his words of hope and encouragement.”
It is worth emphasizing that Pope Francis began his day in Juarez visiting one group of people Jesus would call “the least of these” rather than waiting until the end of the day to make an appearance if time permitted or perhaps not bothering at all.
His priorities seemed in order that day; they are instructive for all of us who claim to represent Christ.
Perhaps more of us would bring Jesus into prisons if we heeded John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (NIV).
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.