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ROME – For many Catholics, Pope Francis lengthy has known as to thoughts St. Pope John XXIII, recognized to Italians as “Good Pope John,” who convened the Second Vatican Council. Like Pope John, Francis is called a progressive reformer decided to shake up an establishment he regards as overly stuffy and inflexible, and, additionally like Pope John, he comes off as a champion of the little man.

Inevitably, due to this fact, as Francis visits Rome’s Regina Coeli prison as we speak to have fun the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, together with washing the ft of 12 inmates, it’ll evoke recollections of probably the most celebrated moment when a pope got here calling on Regina Coeli – Dec. 26, 1958, when John XXIII grew to become the primary pontiff ever to take action.

As recounted by Pope John’s personal secretary, Monsignor Louis Capovilla – who was later made a cardinal, and who died in 2016 – Pope John mentioned a couple of days earlier than that first Christmas as pope, “Listen, Father Loris, my mother taught me that for the holidays we must not only go to Mass, but we must also do works of mercy.”

When Capovilla requested what he had in thoughts, Pope John replied that he wished to go to the Bambino Gesù, a papally-sponsored pediatric hospital, on Christmas Day, and the following day he wished to visit Regina Coeli, Rome’s best-known males’s prison. It was initially a Carmelite convent, and was used in the course of the fascist period to deal with political prisoners. Today, it might home as much as 900 inmates.

The story of what occurred when Pope John visited the prison is well-known, and continuously retold in Italian literature and Christmastime broadcasts. One has to keep in mind that this was earlier than it was customary for popes to go away the Vatican and meet folks in such settings, so there was a good bit of hysteria within the air – each on the a part of the pope’s Vatican aides, who apprehensive about shedding management of the scenario, and among the many inmates themselves, who appeared clearly nervous to be within the pontiff’s presence.

Striving to place folks comfortable, John XXIII deserted his ready textual content in an effort to communicate, as he put it, “from the heart.” He started by telling the inmates that he had a cousin who as soon as served time for poaching at Regina Coeli, and that it had been a tough and emotional time – a element of his biography, because it occurs, unfamiliar to his Vatican workers and communications personnel, who, like Francis’s staff, typically discover themselves scrambling to maintain up with such spontaneous disclosures from the boss.

(The distinction between then and now’s that official Vatican stories of that 1958 visit omitted the bit concerning the pope’s cousin. Today, within the social media period, such makes an attempt at scrubbing the historic file can be totally futile.)

“You could not leave to see me,” Pope John advised the prisoners, “so I have come to see you.”

Speaking to the prisoners, Pope John advised them, “Now you need to rebuild your lives and you need to do one thing: eliminate the word ‘despair,’ and prepare yourselves to spend your lives doing good, because this is also the Father’s house and you are also sons of God.”

A 1958 newsreel account of the visit by Universal-International, voiced by the legendary Ed Herlihy, summed it up this manner: “With a visit to Rome’s Queen of Heaven prison, Pope John continues to show disregard for tradition and precedent to follow his self-chosen role as a pastoral pope, still in spirit a parish priest.”

When Pope John visited the prison’s ward for these serving life sentences, the inmates dropped to their knees – a scene so highly effective, and so imprinted on the creativeness of the world on the time, that it’s depicted on John XXIII’s Vatican monument.

Also like a number of scenes which have performed out throughout Francis’s papacy, at one level an inmate broke by the safety barrier, operating and throwing himself on his knees on the pope’s ft, asking, “Holy Father, I am a delinquent, is there also hope for me?”

John XXIII replied by affirming that “there is hope for all, there is also hope for you,” and telling him “do not worry.”

When Francis arrives on the Regina Coeli this afternoon, he’s first scheduled to satisfy sick inmates within the prison’s infirmary. He’ll then say Mass, forsaking as a present the altar upon which he celebrates, which depicts in bronze Jesus and the misplaced sheep, and which was given as a present to the pope by Italian sculptor Fiorenzo Bacci in 2016.

During the foot-washing ritual as a part of the Last Supper Mass, Francis will wash the ft of twelve prisoners from Italy, the Philippines, Morocco, Moldavia, Colombia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, 4 of whom are non-Catholics – two Muslims, a Buddhist, and an Orthodox Christian.

Before returning to the Vatican, Francis can even meet inmates housed in part VIII, put aside for prisoners convicted of sexual offenses.

It stays to be seen how Francis’s afternoon will play out, however one factor appears sure – when Italian prime time TV information covers the story tonight, he possible gained’t be the one pope visiting Regina Coeli we see, as a result of that day with John XXIII sixty years in the past nonetheless appears like yesterday for a shocking cross-section of individuals right here, for whom it wasn’t only a picture op however a synthesis of the Church at its finest.

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