The Vatican has opened its doors, temporarily, to 50 inmates from Rome's Rebibbia prison.

The inmates got a private tour Sunday of the lush Vatican gardens and listened to Pope Francis' Sunday blessing from the frescoed splendor of the Sistine Chapel.

Vatican Radio quoted the prison director, Stefano Ricca, as saying the visit was emotional for the inmates.

Carmine, one of the guests, told Vatican Radio the inmates appreciated the welcome. He says "in society, we are always looked at in a particular way. Today we were treated like VIPs. That was amazing for all of us."

Francis has long made prison ministry a hallmark of his work. He celebrated Holy Thursday at Rebibbia in April, washing the feet of a dozen inmates in a pre-Easter ritual.