Pope Benedict XVI made an emotional visit Sunday to Rome’s main prison, meeting with detainees, denouncing prison overcrowding and calling for greater dignity for inmates everywhere.

Benedict spent over an hour at Rome’s Rebibbia prison, fielding questions from a half-dozen inmates who spoke of their despair at being kept in overcrowded cells, away from their families, some of them sick with AIDS.

The 84-year-old pope told the 300 men and women gathered in the prison chapel that he loved them and prayed for them. He reminded them that Christ was imprisoned before being sentenced to “the most savage punishment” of all — death.

“Inmates are human beings who, despite their crimes, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” he told them. “They need our concern.”

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