Pope urges Holy Year amnesty for prisoners in peace message

Pope Francis shakes hands with President Maithripala Sirisena at the end of a private audience at the Vatican, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is urging governments to consider granting a Holy Year amnesty to prisoners, find alternatives to incarceration and at the very least abolish the death penalty, in his annual peace message released Tuesday.

Overall, Francis’ message urged policy-makers as well as individuals to overcome what he has called the “globalization of indifference” to the plight of the most vulnerable: the poor, the sick, migrants, prisoners and the elderly.

“On the institutional level, indifference to others and to their dignity, their fundamental rights and their freedom, when it is part of a culture shaped by the pursuit of profit and hedonism, can foster and even justify actions and policies which ultimately represent threats to peace,” he wrote.

In the message, Francis called for concrete and “courageous gestures” from governments in this, his Holy Year of Mercy, to find jobs for the unemployed, to review laws so that migrants are welcomed, to relieve the debt of poor countries and to ensure that the sick receive necessary treatment.

He called for urgent measures to improve conditions of prisoners, especially those awaiting trial. He called for governments to abolish the death penalty and consider alternatives to incarceration as well as a Holy Year amnesty.

Francis has long made prison ministry a mainstay of his vocation. On nearly every foreign trip he has visited with inmates to offer words of solidarity and hope, and he still stays in touch with Argentine inmates he ministered to during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Francis has gone further than other popes, and official church teaching, in saying there is simply no justification for the death penalty today. He has called life prison terms a “hidden death penalty” and solitary confinement a “form of torture” — and said both should be abolished.

“Jesus tells us that love for others — foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies — is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions,” Francis wrote in the message. “Our eternal destiny depends on this.”

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Follow Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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