- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago’s new archbishop and the city’s best-known civil rights leader each delivered Christmas Day messages of hope to inmates at one of the nation’s largest jails Thursday, stressing that having the right focus could help them turn their lives around.

It was the first Christmas in Chicago for Archbishop Blase Cupich, who replaced Cardinal Francis George to lead the Archdiocese of Chicago’s 2.2 million Catholics in November. Cupich’s jail service followed a visit to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago on Christmas Eve.

Cupich, 65, spoke in both English and Spanish. He told the nearly 150 inmates at Thursday’s service that while experiences like jail time might lead to doubting God, being in tune to the needs of others can help to deepen faith.

“There is nothing more profound in the human heart than that commitment to live for other people,” he said. “That is when we experience that God is real.”

As the service ended, Cupich waited to shake each of the inmates’ hands as they walked in a single-file line back to their dorms.

Cupich told reporters afterward that having a large jail population was a “failure of society at large.”

“Cynicism (over the situation) doesn’t get us anywhere,” he said. “We can’t settle for that.”

Later Thursday morning, in another portion of the jail complex, the Rev. Jesse Jackson encouraged more than 230 men and women to ask for forgiveness and to give up drugs.

Jackson, who has delivered Christmas Day sermons at jails for years, says the idea is to inspire and invest in inmates so they don’t return to jail.

He was joined by other Chicago pastors and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a Chicago Democrat. Gospel singers and a band performed as Jackson, standing next to a podium with a microphone, covered a range of topics, and encouraged attendees to repeat with him points of his message.

At one emotional point, Jackson called on inmates to get on their knees and ask for guidance to turn their lives around.

“We do not belong here,” he said. “This is not our permanent residence.”

But Jackson also suggested Cook County is holding many inmates in custody for too long while they wait for a trial, or without them being assigned an attorney - a situation he says is costly and detrimental to the welfare of the county.

“We see in Ferguson, in Cook County, there are too many people in jail,” Jackson said, referring to the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was fatally shot in August. “They should be home, and have an ankle bracelet on to be monitored.”

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Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kerrylester.

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