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Jesuit Father Michael Kennedy
Pope's Words Give Inmates Hope, Says Jesuit Advocate for Fair Sentencing

July 16, 2014 — Pope Francis recently sent a message of hope to a group of prisoners who are serving life sentences without parole for crimes they committed as children. In a letter addressed to Jesuit Father Michael Kennedy, the pope responded to hundreds of letters from these inmates, assuring them of his prayers and that the Lord “knows and loves each one of them.”

After Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young inmates at an Italian detention center during Holy Week 2013, Jody Kent Lavy, an advocate for restorative justice and fair sentencing, organized a letter-writing campaign, and Fr. Kennedy, executive director of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, helped forward 500 of these letters to the pope.

Lavy didn't expect a response from the pope, but then a letter with a simple yet poignant message of mercy, reconciliation and forgiveness arrived from the Vatican. Fr. Kennedy, who ministers to incarcerated youth in juvenile halls in the Los Angeles area, noted the kids were inspired that someone as influential as Pope Francis would assure them of their own worth as individuals. 

On June 8, a special Mass was celebrated at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall outside Los Angeles. More than 100 people were present, including Fr. Kennedy, Lavy and dozens of young people serving life without parole.

“We prayed for the spirit to come upon our politicians and our leaders,” said Fr. Kennedy, “to have their hearts moved to realize that kids deserve a second chance because they can contribute to society.”

The letter from Pope Francis was presented to Lavy at the Mass and read to the young people in attendance. “In saying that he [the pope] is praying for these people, that the Lord is with them, I think really affirms their humanity,” Lavy said.

“The pope’s letter is strong and clear. He believes our youth deserve a second chance,” Fr. Kennedy noted. [Sources: Catholic News Service, America magazine]


Recent News

November 21, 2014 — The 1989 murders of six Jesuits and two women in El Salvador have had a lasting impact on Jesuits and their lay collaborators.

November 20, 2014 — Jesuit Father Dave Anderson, chaplain for Seattle University alumni and the men's basketball team, is now chaplain to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks as well.

November 14, 2014 — Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno Coto, a human rights activist from Honduras, is a former student of Jesuit Father Ignacio Ellacuría.

November 13, 2014 — Twenty-five years after the murders of six Jesuits and two lay women in El Salvador, Jesuits strive for justice that forges reconciliation and looks to the future.

November 12, 2014 — Twenty-five years after six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, were assassinated at the University of Central America, Jesuits and their lay collaborators are remembering them with commemorative events.

November 10, 2014 — The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life held a recent panel discussion at Georgetown University, featuring editors of major Catholic publications.

November 7, 2014 — Artist Mary Pimmel-Freeman brings the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador to life in portraits she created as a student at Rockhurst University in 2006.

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