Pope hits out at marginalization with Panama prison visit

Panama City (AFP) –


Pope Francis railed against the "invisible walls" that marginalize and isolate society's "sinners," as he visited a detention center for young offenders in Panama on Friday.

The 82-year-old Argentine pontiff broke away from the clamor of the global Catholic youth gathering in Panama City to make a 40-kilometer (25 mile) road trip to the center outside the capital.

For much of the journey, pilgrims and locals waved flags and cheered as he passed by.

"Where people's lives are concerned, it seems easier to post signs and labels," stigmatizing "not only people's past but also their present and future," he told the center's young inmates, many of whom are serving time for serious crimes.

"This attitude spoils everything, because it erects an invisible wall that makes people think that -- if we marginalize, separate and isolate others -- all our problems will magically be solved," Francis told them.

Jesus approached and engaged with sinners, "even putting his reputation at risk," said Francis.

He told them they were not defined by the labels society had given them, as offenders.

"Keep fighting, all of you, to seek and find the paths of integration and transformation. The Lord will bless, sustain and accompany you."

The Las Garzas detention center houses 192 young offenders and it was here that some 30 of them made the wooden confession boxes being used at the Garden of Forgiveness in Panama as part of the World Youth Day celebrations, which brought the pope here.

Later in the afternoon, the pope will accompany young people at a Stations of the Cross ceremony in a Panama park overlooking the Pacific.

On Thursday, the first full day of his five-day visit, the pope hit out at the treatment of migrants, saying the church must work to overcome the world's "fears and suspicions" of migration.