Pope visits prison for women in Venice on first trip in months

Pope Francis on Sunday visited a prison for women in Venice ahead of a mass in the watery city representing the 87-year-old pontiff's first trip outside Rome for seven months.

The one-day trip to Venice will be closely watched amid concerns over the fragile health of Francis, who has toured the world extensively in his 11 years as pope but has not travelled since visiting the French city of Marseille in September.

Arriving by helicopter at 8:00am local time to the courtyard of the women's prison on the island of Giudecca, the pope greeted one by one the approximately 80 inmates, staff and volunteers.

The pope, who throughout his papacy has spoken up in defence of prisoners and the marginalised, encouraged the women to reconstruct their lives "brick upon brick, together, with determination" during their time behind bars.

"Prison is a harsh reality, and problems such as overcrowding, the lack of facilities and resources, and episodes of violence, give rise to a great deal of suffering there," he said, sitting in front of the prisoners.

"But it can also become a place of moral and material rebirth..." he added.

Francis called on the prison system to "offer detainees the tools and room for human, spiritual, cultural and professional growth, creating the conditions for their healthy reintegration".

The pope also toured the art exhibition housed at the prison that considers the daily lives of the inmates through the work of 10 different artists.


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