Pope Francis has written a letter to a juvenile gang member jailed in Los Angeles, California, asking that the young man pray for him.
The pope responded to a letter written by Carlos Adrian Vazquez Jr., who, at age 16, received a prison sentence of 11 years for involuntary manslaughter due to his involvement in a Los Angeles gang.
Vazquez told CNN in an interview this week that his crime and subsequent prison sentence caused him to contemplate suicide, and he reached out to the pope to ask for forgiveness.
The teen, who is now 18, added that he was surprised to receive a response from Francis. In the letter, the pontiff asked Vazquez to embrace God's mercy, as well as offer his prayers for the religious leader.
"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 wrote, referencing the Catholic Church's Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy year and its symbolic "opening of the holy door" that invites all Christians to receive God's forgiveness and mercy.
"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 pope added.
Vazquez told CNN that he was shocked to receive a response from the religous leader.
"I couldn't believe it. I didn't think the pope would write to someone who's behind bars," the 18-year-old said.
In honor of the Church's jubilee year, Francis has reached out to society's marginalized groups, including the poor, the sick, and those who have committed crimes.
While speaking with prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia last September, Francis, according to Time magazine, the inmates that he understands "it is a painful time not only for you, but also for your families and for all of society."
"Any society, any family, which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children, and views that pain as something normal or to be expected, is a society 'condemned' to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain," Francis added.
The pope also visited a prison during his trip to Mexico in February, giving inmates at State Cereso Prison No. 3 in Juarez a crystal crucifix to serve as an example of both strength and fragility.
"The crystal is the most fragile, it breaks easily," the pope told the inmates, adding that the cross "helps us, it opens the door to salvation." the El Paso Times reported last month.
"Divine mercy reminds us that prisons are an indication of the kind of society we are," the pontiff continued. "In many cases, they are a sign of silence and omissions, which have led to a throwaway culture, a symptom of a culture that has stopped supporting life, of a society that has abandoned its children."