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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

‘No-one can replace a mother,’ Chilean inmate tells Pope Francis

When mothers are in prison, “children are the ones who suffer the most,” a female inmate at San Joaquin Women’s Prison told Pope Francis on 16th January.

“Nothing and no one can replace a mother,” the inmate, Janeth Zurita, told the pope on behalf of the hundreds of other women in the prison.

Pope Francis has visited other prisons, but this was the first time on his travels as pope that he visited one just for women. He was greeted by women standing with their babies in their arms.

He stopped and spoke to one woman who was seven-and-a-half months pregnant and touched her stomach to bless her unborn baby. The prisoners can have their children with them until they are two, then they must hand them over to another member of the family to look after or, if no-one is available, the children go into the care of the state.

The inmates have been preparing for the papal visit for months. They composed a special song for him and hung brightly coloured paper ribbons from the ceiling of the gym where he met them; each ribbon had a quote of inspiring words Pope Francis had spoken at previous prison visits.

Picture: Pope Francis blesses a pregnant prisoner as he visits the women’s prison centre in Santiago, Chile, on 16th January. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).