With some members of Youth for a United World, we have begun a special experience in the Buoncammino prison in Cagliari, Italy. We were offered the opportunity of presenting an hour of catechesis to the inmates at the jails. We divided up, some in the left wing, some in the women’s jail and some in the high security section. This was an opportunity for us to dedicate some time to these persons, “other Jesuses”, who never come your way because of their condition, and whom you never have an opportunity of ever meeting under normal circumstances.
Stepping into a jail is stepping into a society that is completely different from the one we live in, a small world in miniature, with its own rhythm, customs and problems. An inmate begins to lose contact with the outside world. Oftentimes relations with family and friends become clouded and some inmates sink into solitude and depression. But within this world you find yourself surrounded by people whose lives are connected . . . new friendships are formed, new relationships. And even though there is a long term sentence, they no longer find life outside but within the bars of the jail.
When you listen carefully to an inmate, stories, problems and lives are presented to you that are not like your own. And you begin to see how important freedom is and how difficult it is to really live it within this world.
Inside I found nice, normal, perhaps clever people . . . but thinking about it, you also find such people outside of jails. They ask you, “Why did you come into this jail? Who made you do it? Why aren’t you outside running around with your friends? You certainly have nicer things to do than this?” The answer was simple. I told them that if I were an inmate, I would like it if someone came to visit me just to break the monotony.
Then I discover that gratuitous love is not a given. On the contrary, it is practically inexistent for some of them. A gesture of courtesy or love should at least be followed with some respect if not gratitude.
When I returned from the Genfest that was held in Budapest, Hungary, I was carrying a thought in my mind, something I had heard during the fest: “If you don’t change your world, who will do it for you?” Finding myself among these inmates, after that extraordinary experience of universal brotherhood, I was a bit surprised. Everyone fell silent as my friends and I told the inmates about the various events: the bus ride, the food, the experiences. They listened and intervened with interest. We were so tempted by the desire to share with them the experience of the United World Project, and we asked them: “According to you is a united world where disinterested love reaches beyond cultures and religions, possible? Then a very lively debate was begun.
We don’t know what will come of this. We don’t know whether one of those young men among the inmates has decided to cooperate with justice after meeting us, or how it will turn out. This experience has borne some fruit in my own soul, and it has revived my convictions as a youth for a united world. This is one fragment of the united world that is becoming something real.