Yes, Pope Francis's Visit to a Prison Is a Big Deal

wired fence with barbed wires on blue sky  background
wired fence with barbed wires on blue sky background

This weekend, Pope Francis will visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, and it's a big deal.

Unless, you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware that America jails more people than any other nation on the planet. Today, more than two million people are behind bars. Few of us stop to consider the human impacts of incarceration or what it means to be separated from a parent, sibling and social settings you've known your entire life.

We see numbers, but we don't know the names. We hear the stories, but we distance ourselves from the victims by taking the moral highroad.

Pope Francis' visit to the Curran-Fromhold jail is significant in ways we can only begin to imagine. A global leader of magnitude of His Holiness is using his moral authority to shine a light on an American injustice.

Mass incarceration is everyone's problem. Sadly, we bury our heads in the sand, we've allowed our criminal justice system to spiral out of control, doing irreparable harms to the soul of our nation.

As the Pope delivers his message of justice and compassion, calling our attention to the hungry, the homeless and the poor, we should all ask ourselves, how did we get here? As a practicing Catholic, this question burns in my heart.

We have a responsibility to respond to the moral and ethical crises of our time and we have faltered. We sat idly by while families were destroyed by laws that were made to protect the few, instead of the majority.

This is a moment for repentance and forgiveness. I am using His Holiness' visit to name the injustices that I have allowed to prosper under my watch, to the detriment to the poor and the marginalized in this country. And I am asking for forgiveness.

As a nation, Catholics and non-Catholics alike should see this as an opportunity to rebuild and strengthen our communities of faith and pray that the leaders of this nation enact more compassionate and humane policy approaches to drug use and criminal justice.

Pope Francis is leading by example. He is using his moral authority to shed light on an issue that for too long has been rooted in an ethos of fear and fallacies about people we have cast aside.

His visit is symbolic. It highlights the many ways in which poor Americans are dehumanized, denigrated and distanced by a broken criminal justice system. He's now afforded us a new opportunity to gather our courage and stand up for the convicted and the disavowed.

His Holiness has answered the call.

Yolande Cadore is the director of strategic partnerships with the Drug Policy Alliance.