By María M.Mur
They have been behind bars for several years, dealing with repentance, overcrowding and loneliness, but there is an activity that has given a group of prisoners in a Panama penitentiary back their illusion: making rosaries for World Youth Day (WYD) It will be held in the country next January.
On a table full of colored beads, wooden crosses and strings of thread and leather, Yaribel Virrareal acknowledged to EFE that the day-to-day work at the Doña Cecilia Orillac de Chiari Women's Rehabilitation Center, on the outskirts of the capital, is "too hostile", and that this workshop has helped her "have a busy head".
"I am an Apostolic Catholic and I could have never imagined that being locked up, I could be a part of WYD," said this middle-aged Panamanian, who has been in custody for 7 years, accused of one count of fraud.
"I think that the Pope will get excited when he knows what we are doing and when he is told that since we make rosaries we are more bonded than ever," intervened her cellmate Rubiela Patiño, of Colombian origin, while measuring and cutting a cord.
Panama will host between January 22 and 27, 2019 WYD, one of the most important events of the Catholic Church, which brings together thousands of youths from around the world with the Pope.
Francis’ visit, who will arrive to Panama on January 23, has generated immense interest not only in this country but also throughout Central America, and that the last pontiff who traveled to the region was John Paul II in 1983.
The intention of this group of 60 prisoners is to make 10,000 rosaries, which will be distributed by the various parishes of the city and will be purchased by about 300,000 pilgrims, according to Panamanian authorities, will participate in the religious event.
The director of the prison, Vielka González, explains in statements to EFE that most of these prisoners are students and are part of a reintegration program of the University of Panama, which allows you to commute a day of punishment for two days study.
"It is proven that the prisoners who study in the prison are much more likely to reinsert themselves and not to reoffend," she said.
The center currently houses 651 women, although it has reached levels of overcrowding and sheltered more than a thousand people. The majority of the inmates, according to the management, are accused of crimes related to drugs and 10% are foreigners.
This is the case of Diana Toro, a Colombian woman who is about to serve four years in pretrial detention for laundering large amounts of drug money.
"What I fear the most is rejection, especially in my family, my father died without knowing that I was in jail," she said excitedly.
The workshop is held in new barracks, painted in spotless white, with a fan and air conditioning, which contrasts with the rest of the facilities, dirty and rickety. The inmates usually gather on Saturday morning but some make the time to make some rosaries during the week as well.
"Many were not even believers when they started, but have have deposited their hope and illusion in the rosaries", assured the tutor of the prisoners, Luisa Ángela Tabaes.
Father Francis' agenda in Panama includes mass masses and meetings with the Panamanian Government and the Central American bishopric, as well as visits to a youth prison and a social shelter run by the Church.
It is not contemplated that he pass through this female prison, but it is confirmed that someone has to get a rosary for him or even allowing one of these women to give it to him in person.
"It would be like a dream," admitted María Castellón, the oldest of the center, who has an 18 year homicide conviction.