A Vatican official has urged the world not to forget prisoners amid the coronavirus pandemic.

– “Man cannot live without the other… We realise that now”

“We should all become embraces, as the Holy Father does every day, remembering these brothers of ours in prayer”, subsecretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz, told Vatican Radio.

The Pope always gives inmates “a word of hope and life”, Tejado continued, referring to the pontiff’s frequent intercessions for prisoners in his daily livestreamed Mass from his residence, the Casa Santa Marta.

“Ours will be a caress that, for obvious reasons, we cannot give at the moment, but one nevertheless that we can get through with our voice and our word”, the Vatican official explained.

“Man cannot live without the other… We realise that now and in such a dramatic moment we must be able to regain the sense of being together, which inmates know very well”.

– “When prisoners realise that society is going through its own drama, they get closer”

In the wake of the spread of the coronavirus, many Italian inmates have stepped up with projects to help hospitals, families and the wider community exhausted for fighting an invisible enemy outside prison walls.

For Tejado, that solidarity of the detainees goes to show that life in jail isn’t as bleak as people think, and that there’s always time for conversion and repentance, especially in the dramatic circumstances the world is living due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s extraordinary news that encourages us”, the subsecretary of the Human Development Dicastery said of the prisoners’ solidarity.

“[Prisoners] understand more than anyone how important contact is”, he continued.

“When they receive visits, they meet their relatives, they experience first hand the joy of embracing.

“The moment they realise that society is going through its own drama, they get closer. I hope that these signs, which come from a marginalised part of society, find more and more space in the media”.

– “Six in one cell”: Italian volunteer denounced inmates “are squished together, there is no space”

The prisoners’ fellowship with wider Italian society – which, though new COVID-19 cases are slowing, still hit 100,000 infections and 11,000 deaths from the disease this Monday – is even more remarkable considering the overcrowded conditions in which they are detained.

That congestion is something that concerns Stefania Tallei, a prison ministry volunteer of the Community of Sant’Egidio, who told CNS last week that the inmates she’s still managing to see despite the pandemic “have a big problem in that they are squished together, there is no space”.

“I have to keep telling them to try to keep their distance from each other, but it isn’t easy when there are six in one cell”, Tallei denounced.

– Pope Francis’ appeals

Saturation in prisons is also something that worries Pope Francis, who this past Sunday at the Angelus prayer made special mention of prisoners in the context of the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

“I have read an official memo from the Human Rights Commission which talks about the problem of overcrowded prisons, which could become a tragedy”, the Pope denounced.

He called on authorities “to be sensitive to this serious problem and to take the necessary measures to prevent future tragedies”.

The pontiff dedicated prayers at the Santa Marta Mass March 11 “in a special way… for those who are in prison”.

“Our brothers and sisters…. suffer and we must be near to them with our prayer so that the Lord might console them”, Francis said on that occasion.

He returned to those sentiments in the liturgy he celebrated March 19, where he recalled that prisoners “suffer a lot… because of the uncertainty of what’s happening inside”.

“They are also thinking of their families and how they are doing, some of them are sick, wondering if they need anything. Let’s be near those in prison today. They are suffering a lot during this uncertain and painful moment”, the Pope said at the time.

Francis also asked prisoners from the Due Palazzi prison in Padua to prepare his Good Friday meditations this year.

The Pope explained that he was “moved” by the inmates’ work on the reflections, and added that he “felt very much involved in this story,

“I felt like a brother who made mistakes, and like those who agree to stand beside them to resume the ascent”, Francis said.

Next on Novena:

Pope warns overcrowded prisons in coronavirus pandemic “could become a tragedy”

Santa Marta Mass 19/3: Pope prays for prisoners “suffering” coronavirus “uncertainty”, warns Church against “rules and regulations”

11/3: Francis offers Santa Marta Mass for “consolation” of prisoners, counsels “discernment” to conquer “vanity, worldliness, careerism”

Pope asks prisoners to prepare his Good Friday meditations: “A beautiful page of charity”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.