"When conditions within jails and prisons are not conducive to the process of regaining a sense of a worth and accepting its related duties," the Holy Father said, "these institutions fail to achieve one of their essential ends."
Pope Urges Mercy for Inmates
Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to participants of the 12th World Congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care, urged chaplains to be heralds of God's compassion and forgiveness.
The theme of this year's congress, held in Rome, was "Discovering the Face of Christ in Every Prisoner." In his speech on Sept. 6, the Holy Father said the theme "aptly portrays your ministry as a vivid encounter with the Lord."
"Indeed," the Pontiff continued, referring to his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," "in Christ the 'love of God and love of neighbor have become one,' so that 'in the least of the brethren we find Jesus Himself, and in Him ... God.'
"Your ministry requires much patience and perseverance. Not infrequently there are disappointments and frustrations."
The Pope continued: "Strengthening the bonds that unite you with your bishops will enable you to find the support and guidance you need to raise awareness of your vital mission.
"Indeed, this ministry within the local Christian community will encourage others to join you in performing corporal works of mercy, thus enriching the ecclesial life of the diocese.
"Likewise, it will help to draw those whom you serve into the heart of the universal Church, especially through their regular participation in the celebration of the sacraments of penance and the holy Eucharist."
Benedict XVI said: "Prisoners easily can be overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, shame and rejection that threaten to shatter their hopes and aspirations for the future.
"Within this context, chaplains and their collaborators are called to be heralds of God's infinite compassion and forgiveness.
"In cooperation with civil authorities, they are entrusted with the weighty task of helping the incarcerated rediscover a sense of purpose so that, with God's grace, they can reform their lives, be reconciled with their families and friends, and, insofar as possible, assume the responsibilities and duties which will enable them to conduct upright and honest lives within society."
The Pope spoke of how institutions such as prisons should not only be concerned with protecting the "common good," but should also "aid in rebuilding 'social relationships disrupted by the criminal act committed.'"
He explained: "By their very nature, therefore, these institutions must contribute to the rehabilitation of offenders, facilitating their transition from despair to hope and from unreliability to dependability.
"When conditions within jails and prisons are not conducive to the process of regaining a sense of a worth and accepting its related duties, these institutions fail to achieve one of their essential ends."
The Pontiff continued: "Public authorities must be ever vigilant in this task, eschewing any means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners.
"In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstances.'
"I am confident that your congress will provide an opportunity to share your experiences of the mysterious countenance of Christ shining through the faces of the imprisoned.
"I encourage you in your efforts to show that face to the world as you promote greater respect for the dignity of the detained."
"Finally," the Holy Father concluded, "I pray that your congress will be an occasion for you yourselves to appreciate anew how, in attending to the needs of the imprisoned, your own eyes are opened to the marvels God does for you each day."
This article was drawn from Zenit.org's daily dispatch from Rome.