Holy Door of Mercy for Incarcerated Youths

Archbishop José H. Gomez blesses and prays over a youth in the high-security “Compound” at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. (photo/Victor Aleman)

Archbishop José H. Gomez blesses and prays over a youth in the high-security “Compound” at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. (photo/Victor Aleman)

Inside a high-security unit at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall on Sunday, Carlos proudly read a personal letter he had just received from Pope Francis.

The 18-year-old inmate with black-rimmed glasses, who had recently faced 35 years to life for an undisclosed serious crime, had asked if the esteemed pontiff could address him and other incarcerated youth in time for the first pastoral visit by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Sunday. Pope Francis’ two prior letters to the juveniles, Carlos wrote, “gave us a glimpse of mercy and showed us that we are not alone.”

Carlos read Pope Francis’ letter to Gomez and several other juvenile detainees in Unit X, part of “the compound” that’s surrounded by barbed wire fencing and reserved for the facility’s most serious offenders.

“Our heavenly Father, who revealed himself to Moses as ‘a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,’ continues to offer the gifts of his mercy and love to each and every one of us,’ the pope’s Jan. 21 letter, which was signed simply “Francis,” stated. “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.”

Earlier that morning, Gomez had blessed and opened a “Door of Mercy” at the juvenile facility and celebrated a mass for scores of lower-level juvenile offenders at the facility’s chapel. Pope Francis has declared this year to be an “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy,” a period of grace and forgiveness, in which the pardon of sins would be granted to those seeking forgiveness through penance and confession, pilgrimages to churches and forgiving oneself and others.

Several of the juveniles in Unit X who were tried as adults received life sentences. But for Carlos, the pope’s letter was a reminder that “there’s people out there that haven’t given up on us.”

Though Carlos was initially facing 35 years to life in prison when he entered juvenile hall at age 16, the teen had his sentence reduced to 11 years as a result of good behavior a few weeks ago, said Javier Stauring, co-director of the Office of Restorative Justice at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

“It’s because of who you became, an example for everybody,” Stauring said.

Unlike many other detainees, Carlos said he was fortunate to have both of his parents in his life. His parents have visited him every Sunday at the facility since his detention, he said.

“It has kept my faith going,” Carlos said. “When I was losing hope, they always encouraged me to keep going.”

Gomez told about a dozen other juveniles in the room: “I hope you can form a family too. … You need to help each other and have a community. We need that.”

At the Mass at the nearby chapel that included readings by incarcerated youth, Gomez told scores of juveniles — who walked in with their hands behind their backs — that God wants people to be happy regardless of their circumstances.

That’s “because we have the gift of life and we know that God is with us,” he said.

For Gomez, the pastoral visit was “a moment of grace and peace for me” since it brought the hope of God’s presence in their lives.

“My hope is they can feel they are important,” he told reporters following the Mass. “Sometimes they got into this situation because they were looking for somebody to pay attention to them. I think it’s important as a society to value them for who they are.”

Meanwhile, Carlos says he has big dreams after serving the rest of his sentence at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, where he plans to take college courses so he can “do something with my life.” He also intends to be a leader someday, like Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, he wrote in his letter to the Pope.

“Being an outcast of society, I want the world to see us for who we truly are: human beings, who make mistakes like everybody else,” he wrote. “But we are able to rise again like a Phoenix.”

Source: http://www.dailynews.com/social-affairs/20160124/for-incarcerated-sylmar-youth-a-door-of-mercy-opens?source=most_viewed



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