Convicted juvenile Carlos Adrian Vazquez Jr. now 18 started serving an 11-year jail sentence at the age of 16 for involuntary manslaughter.
Carlos had written to Pope Francis earlier, seeking forgiveness for his part in a gang-related death. When he received a reply from the Pontiff, he said he was stunned. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think the Pope would write to someone who’s behind bars," he said.
Replying him, the Pope said, “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."
The Holy Father’s letter read: “Dear Carlos, May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you!" Pope Francis encouraged Vazquez and the other inmates to make use of the Holy Door of Mercy that the Archbishop of Los Angeles would open at the prison.
Catholics who meet certain conditions – including receiving Confession and Holy Communion, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father – may receive a plenary indulgence when they pass through a designated Holy Door, a special door set aside for the Catholic Church’s Jubilee of Mercy.
“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," the Pope said.
In his letter to Pope Francis, Vazquez expressed profound regret for his past mistakes.
He wrote, “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. 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."
His problems started when he dropped out of school at 15 and joined a bad gang.
“I wouldn’t go home for days, a week, and I lost all connection with my family, it got worse,” he said.
Talking about his crime, he said, “It was a gang fight and someone died. I wasn’t the one who did it, but because I was there I was charged with the same crime."
Vazquez who felt he had nothing to live for and nothing to lose felt inspired by Pope Francis’ reply
“It gave me a lot of hope knowing that there are people like the Pope who still have not given up on us. I know I’ve made mistakes and have hurt people, but what I learned in my two years and five months I’ve been imprisoned, I didn’t know I was hurting people and that I was hurting myself, too,” Vazquez said.
“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," he added.
Rev. Michael Kennedy, a Jesuit priest who provides counseling to the young defenders serving sentences for life supervised the letters Vazquez and other youth wrote to the Pope.
Describing vazquez’s transformation, he said, “With help from family and volunteers, the boy became a young man. “He would get into fights here. He had nine fights at one time in a short period of time, and all he would think about was his gang," Kennedy said.
“It’s easy to say you’ve changed, but the change is in the actions of someone," Kennedy said. “He started to read a lot of articles about the Pope, and he felt he was a person who had transformed his own self, and he knew that the Pope had a special place in his heart for the inmates, prisoners."
Below is the scanned copy of Pope’s letter: