It’s great to be here with you, I’m honored by your invitation to speak with you.
First of all, I want to express my gratitude to all of you today, especially for those of you who serve in our court system.
Recently, I had jury duty for a couple of days, so I had first-hand experience with the professionalism of our officers of the court. So thank you. What you all do — at every level in our court system — is vital to our democracy and to the health of our communities and neighborhoods.
So I am grateful and please know that you are in my prayers. We all know that in your daily work, you face many challenges.
We know you have grave responsibilities. To defend justice and the common good. To seek the truth and protect peace. In your work, you are serving God by serving his children. By helping our brothers and sisters in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. So yours is a noble vocation of public service.
I know that you consider the Catholic Church a partner in building a better Los Angeles. All of us here today from the religious community share a common appreciation for your service. And we want to be your partners in serving our city.
We share with you, and with our political and civic leaders, the goal of promoting the common good. We all want to build a city that is just and peaceful — where people have what they need to lead a dignified life, a life that is worthy of the human person, who is a child of God. In order to build this kind of society takes a common commitment, a “holistic” commitment — from every sector of society.
We need all of us, working together to build strong families, to strengthen our schools and teach virtue and civic values to our children. We need to revitalize our neighborhoods and empower civic institutions.
We need a decent economy and strong courts and law enforcement. As we all know, when a case gets into our judicial system, it’s often a sign that something has broken down or failed in these other areas. Let’s keep working together, as partners, to build justice and understanding and to make Los Angeles stronger.
As you know, the Catholic Church has long history of working with our courts and criminal justice system.
It is a commandment of our religion that we visit the prisoner and work for justice and reconciliation in society.
Jesus told us that we would be judged, in part, on the compassion we show to those who are in prison or find themselves outside the law.
So we take our work for justice and reconciliation to be a serious duty of our faith. We want to promote healing along with justice. Many of you are familiar with our restorative justice program for young people, and we serve in many different areas in our prisons and in our communities, especially with “at risk” populations.
In our Catholic tradition, the courts and law enforcement are noble means by which we protect society, defend the public order, and try to restore the peace that is disrupted by criminal acts.
The Church believes also that our justice system must help with rehabilitation and restoration of offenders. So again we are grateful for what you do to temper justice with mercy and a concern for rehabilitation.
Pope Francis said something to prison chaplains that I think applies to everyone in the court system. He recognized that you meet people at difficult times in their lives, when they are very vulnerable, when they are weak.
And he said that you have the chance, to tell these people in the system “with your actions, with your words and with your hearts” that God is still with them, that he does not remain outside their lives. That he remains close to them.
A lot of people ask me about Pope Francis. And I know him a little bit. I have had the privilege to celebrate Mass with him in his simple chapel in the Vatican. And I’ve had the chance to spend some time talking with him about the challenges in my ministry.
And I have to say, he is the “real deal.” He is a man of God — a man of compassion and mercy and man of prayer.
And I think Pope Francis is God’s gift to our world today. To everyone, whether you are Catholic or not. Pope Francis is reminding us of our common humanity, that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the one God. He is calling us to remember that we have a basic responsibility for others. A duty to take care of one another and to help those in need.
His basic message is the message of love and mercy. It is the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
And I think that the Pope has a lot to teach us as we think about our whole society. And he has lessons that we can apply in our courts and criminal justice system.
Love and mercy should be our common approach to one another.
Because having mercy means we remember that we are all weak, that we all have limitations. That we are all human. And we all rely on the kindness of others. The more we are motivated by love for our brothers and sisters, the more we are motivated by compassion and mercy, the more we will serve justice.
So I think that basic message is important. The message of mercy joined to justice.
I want to leave you with a brief reflection on something that Pope Francis did late last year that I think is a beautiful example for us of the mercy that we can show to others.
The Pope holds a public audience every Wednesday at the Vatican and in one of those audiences, he met a man who had the rare disease that left his face and his whole body covered with tumors.
The man’s name was Vinicio Riva. He is 53 years old and he has lived his whole life suffering shame for his disease. My friends, can you imagine living every day and having people be too scared to even look at you, to even approach you?
So the Pope saw this man and he went right up to him. The Pope embraced him, held him in his arms. Then he took Vinicio’s face in his hands and kissed him. They didn’t say a word between them. They didn’t have to.
Vinicio said later: “I’m not contagious, but the Pope didn't know that. He just did it, period. He caressed my whole face and while he was doing it, I felt only love."
My friends, this is true mercy, true love. And we have a chance, in all our dealings with people, to show that mercy and love to them. Every day, we have a chance to treat people with dignity, with respect. To show them the love that God has for them.
So don’t underestimate the power of mercy to help you in your jobs. Little signs of compassion can warm people’s hearts and attract them to what is good. You never know how much good you can do, through just your little acts of kindness.
Thank you for everything you do. May God protect you all and grant you peace.