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Pope Francis Holds Special Jubilee Mass for Prisoners in St. Peter’s Basilica, urges Political Leaders across the world to respect Dignity of Inmates

Francis held a special Jubilee Mass Sunday for some 1,000 prisoners from 12 countries and their families, as well as prison chaplains and volunteers in St. Peter's Basilica

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Pope Francis celebrates the Holy Mass for the Jubilee of inmates, at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Nov. 6, 2016. VOA

November 7, 2016: Pope Francis urged political leaders across the world to respect the dignity of inmates and offer them amnesty whenever possible.

Francis held a special Jubilee Mass Sunday for some 1,000 prisoners from 12 countries and their families, as well as prison chaplains and volunteers in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Sometimes, a certain hypocrisy leads to people considering you only as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer,” Francis said in his homily.

Francis called for “a criminal justice system that is not exclusively punitive, but is open to the hope and the possibility of re-inserting the offender into society.”

“I wish to reiterate the importance to reflect on the need for a criminal justice system that is not exclusively punitive, but is open to the hope and the possibility of re-inserting the offender into society,” he said. “In a special way, I submit to the consideration of the competent civilian authorities in every country the opportunity to make, in this Holy Year of Mercy, an act of clemency towards those prisoners who will be considered eligible to benefit from this measure.”

The pope told the inmates that all people “have made mistakes” and urged them to never give up hope in God’s mercy.

The event was part of the Vatican’s Holy Year of Mercy, which comes to an end later this month, and was followed by Francis’ traditional Sunday “Angelus” blessing in St. Peter’s Square, where tens of thousands of worshippers had gathered, despite the morning rain.

Francis has called for a world-wide abolition of the death penalty and also opposes life in prison without parole.

The pontiff declared 2016 a special “Holy Year of Mercy” because he wants the Church’s 1.2 billion members to be more merciful and less rigid towards sinners during this holy year, also known as a Jubilee.

Roman Catholic holy years usually occur every 25 years, the last one being in 2000, but popes may call extraordinary ones to draw attention to particular issues or momentous events. (VOA)

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“Visit Strengthens Further Internal Cohesion and Unity”: Pope Francis Meets Leaders of North Macedonia

Ahead of his visit, Francis praised the mix of cultures, religions, and ethnicities in North Macedonia, and said he was traveling there to "sow these seeds" of solidarity.

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Pope Francis greets the crowds in Skopje on May 7. RFERL

Pope Francis, who is on a historic first trip to North Macedonia, has met with the country’s leadership and held Mass in the main square of the capital, Skopje.

Francis was welcomed by the outgoing president, Gjorge Ivanov, and other government officials.

He has sought to encourage the country’s drive toward integration into the EU and NATO after its name change resolved a decades-long dispute with Greece last year.

Like neighboring Bulgaria — Francis’s first stop on his three-day Balkan tour — North Macedonia, a small Balkan country of 2.1 million, is mainly Orthodox Christian.

But the country has a large community of ethnic Albanian Muslims, who make about one-quarter of the population. North Macedonia is home to an estimated 15,000 Catholics.

In meetings with Ivanov and with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev at the presidential palace, Francis praised North Macedonia’s multiethnic and multifaith culture, calling it an example of peaceful coexistence and a bridge between East and West.

“These particular features are also highly significant for increased integration with the nations of Europe,” he said.

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Like neighboring Bulgaria — Francis’s first stop on his three-day Balkan tour — North Macedonia, a small Balkan country of 2.1 million, is mainly Orthodox Christian. VOA

“It is my hope that this integration will develop in a way that is beneficial for the entire region of the Western Balkans, with unfailing respect for diversity and for fundamental rights.”

In his speech, President Ivanov complained about delays in accepting Macedonia in the Euro-Atlantic family.

“You come at a time when [North] Macedonian society is deeply divided, and the [North] Macedonian [nation] is heavily wounded by broken promises, unfulfilled expectations and faltering trust in the international community,” he said.

Viktor Dimovski, state secretary of North Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry, told the media on May 6 that the pope’s historic visit comes at a crucial moment as the country seeks entry into the European Union and NATO.

“The pope’s visit strengthens further internal cohesion and unity, and brings messages of reconciliation and solidarity,” he said.

The pope’s visit also included a prayer at the memorial of North Macedonia’s most famous native daughter, Mother Teresa, who was born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in 1910 in Skopje when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire.

Francis was surrounded by Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity nuns in praying before the memorial. Mother Teresa was canonized by Francis in 2016.

Ahead of his visit, Francis praised the mix of cultures, religions, and ethnicities in North Macedonia, and said he was traveling there to “sow these seeds” of solidarity.

“Living together is not always easy, we know that,” the pope said in a video message. “But it’s worth struggling toward, because the most beautiful mosaics are the ones that are richest in colors.”

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But the country has a large community of ethnic Albanian Muslims, who make about one-quarter of the population. Pixabay

With the name dispute with Greece now resolved, North Macedonia, which has been an EU aspirant since 2005, hopes to get a clear signal for the start of accession talks in June. Skopje also expects to become the 30th NATO member at the end of the year.

Also Read: Puppeteers Bring Message of Harmony, Love, Tolerance in Pakistan’s Karachi

Stevo Pendarovski, who was elected president in a runoff election on May 5, said he saw his victory as a “ticket for NATO and EU.”

Six Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia — are in various stages of the accession process to join the EU. (RFERL)