A 50 meters long table, set with a yellow paper tablecloth. Treated to a typically Milanese menu – the same for everyone – saffron risotto, schnitzel and fries, cooked cream, with a “Roman artichokes” side. Pope Francis’ lunch with some 100 inmates of the San Vittore prison took place in all its simplicity. That same simplicity characterizing the Pope’s whole visit in the capital of Lombardy, from his early morning arrival to his coming to the White Houses in the outskirts of Milan “as a priest.”
And “as a priest” Francesco has crossed the threshold of the prison facility shortly after midday, after praying the Angelus with thousands of faithful in Piazza Duomo. “I thank you for welcoming me. I feel at home with you,” the Bishop of Rome began, as reported by the website of the Archdiocese of Milan. “Jesus said:” I was in prison and you came to visit me. “For me you are Jesus, you are brothers. I do not have the courage to say to any person who is in prison: “He deserves it.” Why you and not me? The Lord loves me as much as you, Jesus himself is in you and in me; we are sinful brothers. Think of your children, your families, your parents. I spend so much time here with you who are Jesus’ wounded heart. Thanks so much and pray for me. “
That the prison has now become an obligatory stop during the Pope’s pastoral visits in Italian dioceses as well as during his international journeys: in Poggioreale, Naples, or Castrovillari, Calabria, as Palmasola in Bolivia, Ciudad Juárez in Mexico or the “House Correccional Buen Pastor “, a women’s correctional facility in Paraguay.
A sign of attention from the Pope to a “low-end” and marginalized part of society, of which he himself feels in some way participatory: “Every time I go into a prison wonder:” Why them and not me? ‘Has always said the Pope. Words, which have been always followed by repeated gestures of closeness to the detainees along with incessant appeals to ensure better living conditions and respect for their rights.
A message that the Pope reflected today in Milan, visiting the ancient structure in via Filangieri inaugurated in 1879 during the Kingdom of Italy, where political prisoners were locked up during the fascist era. This is probably the most important stop of the Francis’ journey in Milan, definitely the longest one: Bergoglio, along with Cardinal Angelo Scola, has spent about three hours with agents, educators, health professionals and representatives of volunteers (two priests, a deacon, 10 nuns and 4 seminarians in San Vittore) and the chaplain don Marco Recalcati.
Right in the chaplain room, the Pope rested for about thirty minutes. He did not go back to the episcopate as usual, but taking a little siesta before the Mass in the Ambrosian rite in the park of Monza, scheduled at 15. An absolute novelty that has piqued the curiosity of the faithful and numerous media outlets in recent days.
More specifically, after greeting the director Gloria Manzelli and authorities, Poe Francis’ dedicate the first part of his visit in San Vittore to the meeting with some female prisoners and their children. It followed a visit to the clinical center, the women’s and young adults’ units; and in the central rotunda, the meeting with 80 detainees from all departments, representing the 860 hosted in the institute. He then visited prisoners detained in a “protected” environment, i.e. convicted police, transgender, or who committed offenses against women, children and elderly. Pope Francis also visited the wards for the “common” prisoners, from the guilty of murder to those accused of frauds.
The Pope shook everyone’s hand; he even gave someone a hug. He addressed everyone with words of encouragement. A boy and a girl then read a letter to tell their story, and the preparation for this visit, which had begun in December and fueled by what the San Vittore operators call “prison Radio”, an internal broadcaster that keeps prisoners updated on what was going on outside in anticipation of the Pope’s arrival.
Pope Francis had lunch with 100 inmates took place instead in the third unit. The inmates, led by a chef who already worked in San Vittore, cooked each dish. At the end, there was the blessing of the gifts offered by the prisoners: a handmade scarf from their tailoring laboratory handcrafted preprinted tickets on which each convict wrote their names and those of their loved ones, for the Pontiff to take with him in prayer. Something Bergoglio will certainly not forget to do.