By Salvador Solorio
Journalism Guild Writer
Pope Francis recently replied to a letter from a juvenile in the Los Angeles County Jail.
“Know that the Holy Father is thinking of you and praying for you,” the Pope wrote to Carlos Adrian Vazquez Jr., convicted of voluntary manslaughter at age 16.
In his letter Vazquez said that he was asking for forgiveness for what he did from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Vazquez said he couldn’t believe it. “I didn’t think the Pope would write to someone who’s behind bars,” he told CNN.
The Pope’s letter spoke of “A Holy Door to Mercy” being opened at the juvenile jail, in a ceremony led by the Los Angeles archbishop.
“I pray that as you and your fellow residents celebrate the opening of the Holy Door, you may receive these gifts and be filled with peace and hope…. And please remember to pray for me, because I greatly need your prayers,” the Pope wrote.
CNN noted that the exchange of letters is the latest example of the Pope’s new mission of mercy. He has been reaching out to juvenile and adult inmates as part of his Jubilee of Mercy this year. During his visit to Mexico he visited prisoners, and in 2013 he washed the feet of incarcerated people, including women.
The Pope’s letter affected Vazquez deeply. “It gave me a lot of hope, knowing that there are people like the Pope who still have not given up on us,” said Vazquez. “I know I’ve made mistakes and have hurt people, but what I learned in my two years and five months I’ve been imprisoned, I didn’t know I was hurting people and that I was hurting myself, too.”
Vazquez, now 18 years old, expressed regret for his crime in a letter to the victim’s family. “No words would ever give them back the life I destroyed,” he said.
Vazquez has learned many lessons and now has strength to continue paying his debt to society. “If society does not forgive me, I know God forgives me for my sins. The way I thought was to fight every month. Now I use my words instead of my hands,” he said.
By Salvador Solorio