Eighteen-year-old convicted felon Carlos Adrian Vazquez Jr. wrote a letter to Pope Francis seeking forgiveness for his part in a gang-related death. According to CNN, Carlos was serving an 11-year sentence in a Los Angeles juvenile jail for involuntary manslaughter and had lost his will to live. The conviction, which was gang-related, occurred when Carlos was just 16-years-old.
“Dear Carlos,” Pope Francis wrote back surprising the young man. “May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you! I was pleased to receive your recent letter.”
The pope’s letter also referenced the Holy Door being opened in the juvenile jail, which was only one of an estimated 10,000 Holy Doors being opened around the world.
“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.”
At a certain point in the letter, the pope even asks young Vazquez to pray for him as well.
“Know that the Holy Father is thinking of you and praying for you. And please remember to pray for me, because I greatly need your prayers,” Francis wrote.
“I asked for forgiveness for what I did,” Vazquez told CNN. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think the Pope would write to someone who’s behind bars.”
In his letter to Pope Francis, Vazquez spoke of one day rising above his past mistakes and becoming an inspiration to others.
“If only the world were filled with more love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. 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. But we are able to rise again like a Phoenix,” Carlos wrote in his letter. “I will become a leader some day, like Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. Thank you for your loving and your merciful example to all of us.”
Now that he is a legal adult, Carlos is about to be transferred to Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, California. He admits he’s afraid of the change. However, it seems Pope Francis’s letter has brought him not only peace but a new positive outlook on life.
“If society does not forgive me, I know God forgives me for my sins,” Carlos said. “It gives me a lot of pride because it’s a message from God, that we are all humans, and he gives us hope that God wants all of us to be equal and we all commit mistakes, and we can get up and continue.”
Francis, who is the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic church, has become known for his personal acts of kindness, and on numerous occasions, he has reached out to those in prison. In 2013, Francis even washed the feet of prisoners.
Exchanging letters with inmates is just one of the pope’s acts during what he declared as a “Jubilee Year of Mercy.” After inaugurating the Year of Mercy, the pope stated he hoped it would have the church saying it is a time to experience the “sweet and gentle touch” of God’s forgiveness and his presence in difficult times.
Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy means learning how to not remain prisoners of the past. It means believing things can be different.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) February 17, 2016
Pope Francis does seem to want to revolutionize traditional Catholic views and how the church is perceived. Instead of condemnation, judgment, and the threat of Hellfire, Francis preaches mercy and forgiveness. Pope’s viewpoint on the use birth control caused controversy when he stated that avoiding pregnancy is not “an absolute evil.”
Pope Francis has received much praise for his merciful and open-armed approach to all human beings from all walks of life. Francis’s ability to stay hip to the times has given him the ability to reach millions more. This became apparent when he became the first pope to open a Twitter account. Francis also helped launch the first official Vatican iPhone app.
Pope Francis’ message of mercy is arguably summed up in one notable quote reported by the Advocate.
“[We] must be more welcoming, charitable, compassionate and merciful to all people.”
Pope Francis includes in this statement all those that do not follow the Catholic Church’s doctrine to the letter, including convicted felons such as Carlos.
[Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images]