Bearing a small tree in their arms, blessed during the Eucharist celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral in Chile's capital city, 81 families returned home to plant and grow it in memory of "an absent but always present" family member. The Mass commemorated the 81 deaths in the prison of San Miguel, that happened just a year ago.
Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago presided at the celebration which was attended by the families of the 81 prisoners who died and 14 seriously injured.
Mgr. Ezzati publicly said to all the authorities during the celebration to improve the conditions of prisoners and to show solidarity with the families.
According to the Catholic bishops' conference of Chile, the 81 families brought 81 crosses with the names of the prisoners who died as a symbol of their presence in a ceremony rich in signs and Christian messages.
They held candles in their hands, symbol of hope, and flowers to be sown later at the prison where their family members died, as well as a red heart, symbol of inner conversion. Behind the families, the signs of the association "81 Razones" - 81 Reasons - bore the message "Deprived of freedom but not dignity".
Archbishop Ezzati, in his homily said with great energy: "We can only build a fraternal society, that has respect, where people identify themselves as such, as well as their weaknesses, if our existence is based on the values that recognizes that God is the Father of everyone and the source of dignity for everyone. If in our society, this had been recognized, our prisons would not be a place where human dignity is trampled on and ignored, with no possibility of renewal, but would be a place where changing life is possible".
"Chile needs to walk with determination towards a culture where those who did wrong will find space for renovation and new ways of life and hope".
The archbishop finally made an appeal to the authorities: "I pray in the name of the Lord, that all the country's authorities multiply their efforts so that the brother prisoners in the jails of Chile can find, not only a place of punishment, but a place of redemption, where one may think that a different future is possible. And this task and responsibility, he said, belongs to our entire society". "Our prisons must be renewed in all aspects, especially in what it means dignity," he concluded.
The reality of prisons in Chile has been denounced by the Church several times recently. The situation is very critical: 70% overcrowding at a national level. The prison of San Miguel, a year ago had about 2,000 prisoners, when the place can accommodate only one thousand, and this is reflected across the country with a population of 54,000 prisoners in an infrastructure that could accommodate maximum 34,000.
The deaths at the San Miguel prison occurred following a fire that consumed the building. An investigation is ongoing.