“God weeps”

Francis with bishops © dpa

Prisoners © dpa

On the last day of his U.S. trip, Pope Francis met with victims of sexual abuse. He also visited a prison and criticized the penal system. The trip concludes with a large family service.

After meeting with three men and two women who had been abused by Catholic clergy when they were minors, the head of the church expressed concern. "God weeps," Francis said Sunday. As pope, he is concerned that those responsible are held accountable and that young people are protected in the future.

Reports of abuse should not be covered up, Francis stressed at Wynnewood Seminary near Philadelphia, where the meeting took place. The uncovering of the abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church began 30 years ago and plunged the church into a deep crisis of confidence. More than 17.000 people have now testified that they were sexually abused by priests when they were children. According to a 2004 study, there are allegations against more than 5.000 U.S. clergy.

Criticism of the penal system in the USA

After meeting with abuse victims, the church leader visited a detention center in Philadelphia. There he criticized the penal system in the U.S. and called for society's commitment to better resocialization of prisoners. "It hurts to see penal systems that do not try to treat injuries, heal wounds and create new opportunities," he told inmates Sunday at Philadelphia's largest prison, with about 8.000 inmates, including women.

State and society have a duty to help them reintegrate into life, Francis said. They don't have the right to get used to the prevailing conditions, he said. Otherwise, society itself would become "a prisoner of all that makes it suffer". Successful resocialization instead lifts the morale of the entire community, he said.

With about 2.3 million prisoners, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Many prisons are completely overcrowded. One reason is the rigid justice system in the United States. Many inmates remain behind bars only because they can't pay the bail to be freed. A large percentage of inmates are African American, Hispanic and immigrant.

The washing of the feet of Jesus on his disciples symbolizes that every human being is purified before God again and again and can never lose his or her dignity, Francis said. Life means getting your feet dirty. But Jesus comes to meet people in order to clothe them once again with the dignity of God's children.

After his address to the 100 or so men and women, Francis greeted each inmate personally; he exchanged a few words with them and hugged some. As a gift, the prison inmates had made a wooden chair for the Pope. Visits to detention centers are a regular part of Pope Francis' travels.

Fears of commitment due to consumer culture

Earlier, at a meeting with bishops and seminarians, Francis warned that consumer culture and fears of commitment threaten the happiness of many young people today. Instead of marrying and starting a family, they live in "radical loneliness," he lamented. Instead of seeking trust and commitment, young people chased "likes" and "followers" on social networks. "What is important today is determined by consumption. Consume relationships, consume friendships, consume religions, consume, consume…"Francis said in the seminary of the U.S. Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The world today, he said, resembles a shopping center with vast choices and many options. However, he said, this has led to a situation in which young people no longer want to be bound to anything or to anyone. Rather, a culture dominates in which everything is thrown away "that no longer 'serves' or 'satisfies' the consumer's inclinations," Francis criticized. Christians are not immune to the changes of their time either, he said.

However, he warned the clergy against cultural pessimism and rash judgments about young people. Many young people are not egoists, but victims of an ideal of prosperity, for which they push their marriage further and further. In contrast, according to the Pope, priests and bishops are called upon to heal the wounds of loneliness and to promote the beauty of family life. "We need to focus our energies less on explaining over and over again the shortcomings of the present era and the merits of Christianity, and more on openly and directly inviting young people to be bold in their choice of marriage and family."

A Christianity that practices little in reality "and is explained endlessly in education" finds itself in a dangerous disproportion. "I would say in a real vicious cycle."

Family worship as the highlight and conclusion of the journey

At the end of his nine-day trip to Cuba and the U.S., Pope Francis will celebrate a large Mass in Philadelphia on Sunday (10 p.m. German time). The service also marks the end of the Catholic World Meeting of Families. The organizers expect a million participants.

The service will take place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a roughly 1.5-kilometer-long thoroughfare in Philadelphia's Museum District. The greenery-lined parade route was the site of the 2005 Live 8 concert for debt relief and poverty alleviation, among other events. Francis flies back to Rome this evening.

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