Pope Francis will have a one-of-a-kind seat during his visit to a Philadelphia prison next month.
Over the past several weeks inmates, guards and staff in the city’s correctional system have been working together to hand-carve a chair, as a token of their appreciation for the religious leader, the Philly Voice reports.
The wooden chair is six feet tall and carved out of black walnut. It’s expected to be refinished this coming week at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, where the Pope plans to meet about 100 prisoners and their families during a two-day trip to the city, starting Sept. 27. And while the gift may hold much meaning for Francis, 78, the prisoners say it means a lot to them too.
Inmate Rameen Perrin, who says he’s spent more than a year behind bars on drug charges, says this is a privilege.
“It made me honored because I’m one of the ones that work hard, and they noticed,” Perrin, 21, tells CBS News. Inmates were chosen to participate based on work ethic, skill and reliability.
The chair initiative is part of the PhilaCor program, which uses shops throughout the city’s prison system to prepare inmates with real life work experience for their lives after prison.
Anthony Newman has been overseeing the chair’s construction. He hopes the Pope likes it. “The fact that I got the privilege to do the chair is good enough if I never see him sit in the chair,” Newman tells CBS. “So I’m happy.”
One of the prisoners who made the chair will get to present it to the pontiff but that person hasn’t been chosen yet.
Pope Francis has made prison ministry a focus of his pontificate. He often meets with prisoners and washes their feet as part of rituals before Easter.
Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla says he’s looking forward to the Pope’s visit with the prisoners’ families. “We feel that community ties, family reunification is one of our goals,” he previously said, per CBS.
In addition to visiting the prison, Pope Francis plans to give a speech at Independence Hall, attend an outdoor family festival, and lead a Mass for more than 1 million pilgrims.
This is the second chair that inmates have made this year. In January they made one for Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput when he celebrated Mass at the facility.