Catholic prison charity CEO has once-in-a-lifetime encounter with Pope Francis

Last week the CEO of a Catholic prisons charity had a once-in-a-lifetime privilege to greet Pope Francis. Andy Keen-Downs was in Rome for the Centesimus Annus Conference which included a private audience. In words echoing the values which underpin the work of Pact, the national Catholic prison charity, Pope Francis spoke to the delegates about the importance of community where we are ‘imagining and working for a future where each person can find his or her place and have room in the world.’

“When it was my turn, in terrible Italian, I asked Pope Francis to bless a beautiful silver image of Mary Untier of Knots, on behalf of those in prison in England & Wales,” said Andy.

“Pope Francis, who of course washes the feet of prisoners on Maundy Thursday, smiled when he understood what I was saying and raised his hand to touch and bless the picture. I asked him to pray for all of us who work with people in prison too. He indicated that he would do so.’

The particular image was suggested by Bishop Richard Moth, Liaison Bishop for Prisons on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference. An image of Mary untying the seemingly intractable ‘knots’ in our lives may be especially appropriate for those affected by the criminal justice system – and those striving to make a difference in it. Life is likely to be a struggle for women and men serving a prison sentence or working to make a fresh start after imprisonment, as it is for their children and families too. For those of us walking alongside and supporting our brothers and sisters in these situations, we see all the complexities of human relationships lived out within systems that can seem to make it harder for people to flourish.

Pact is 125 years’ old this year and the organisation continues to grow and innovate.

“It is hard to put into words what this symbolic and spiritual support from Pope Francis for Pact’s work means for me personally,” said Andy.

“I still feel a little overwhelmed. His concern for people in prison is well known, and to bring back a physical symbol of that care to prisoners in England and Wales, of all faiths and none, is humbling.”

Meet the Pact team at a Pact Roadshow or Justpeople workshop

Photo Credit © Vatican Media


About the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact)

Pact is a pioneering national, Catholic charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families. We provide caring and life changing services at every stage of the criminal justice process: in court, in prison, on release, and in the community.

Pact’s vision is of a society in which justice is understood as a process of restoration and healing, in which prisons are used sparingly and as places of learning and rehabilitation, and in which the innate dignity and worth of every human being is valued.  We work for the common good of society, taking a public health-based approach. We work at the intersection of criminal justice, child and family welfare, mental health, wellbeing provision and health & social care.

Our volunteers and staff can be found in courts, prisons, probation services, and in communities across England & Wales.  Building on our Catholic roots, we are a diverse, inclusive, modern, and collaborative charity.  We build effective partnerships and sustainable solutions based on our well-established understanding of the systems in which we work, and on our historic values and ethos developed through our 120+ years of service delivery.

What we do:

  • Build stronger families and safer communities.
  • Reduce risk of harm to prisoners and their children.
  • Remove barriers and increase awareness in public services.
  • Influence commissioning, policy and legislation.




Twitter: @PactFaithAction


Instagram: @prisonadvice


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Pact is a charity registered in England & Wales, number 219278.

Company registration number: 356443.

Registered office: 29 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UA.