March 11March 11 Editorial: Pope’s example a reminder of bringing faith to those in prison (April 22, 2022)

April 22, 2022

Editorial

Pope’s example a reminder of bringing faith to those in prison

“When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” (Mt 25:39)

They are among those on the margins, on the peripheries, the ones that society tends to want to brush aside or forget.

And yet our faith tells us we must be Christ to them, reminding these individuals we see the goodness and dignity of every person—including in those who have committed crimes.

We again were offered a powerful witness of faith during Holy Week as Pope Francis visited a group of incarcerated women and men, this year at a prison in Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome.

The pope celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the inmates and told them and other prisoners that God never tires of forgiving anyone who asks.

“Each of us, perhaps, has something in his heart that he has been carrying for some time,” that agitates him, “some little skeleton hidden in the closet,” the pope said. “But ask Jesus for forgiveness. He forgives everything.”

He also washed the feet of 12 inmates of different ages and nationalities, and told them Jesus asks each of us for “our trust to ask for forgiveness. You can do it when you are alone, when you are with other companions, when you are with the priest.”

During the first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis chose to visit a juvenile detention facility near Rome. In 2014, he washed the feet of people with severe physical handicaps at a rehabilitation center in Rome. The next year, he was at a Rome prison and, in 2016, he celebrated the liturgy and foot-washing ritual at a center for migrants and refugees. From 2017 to 2019, he again chose prisons. The COVID pandemic prevented him from visiting detention facilities on Holy Thursday in 2020 and 2021.

But last week the pope visited the Civitavecchia prison, encouraging the inmates in his homily to pray: “Lord, forgive me. I will try to serve others, but you serve me with your forgiveness.

“There is a Lord who judges,” the pope told them, “but it’s a strange judgment: The Lord judges and forgives.”

At the end of his homily, the Holy Father told the inmates he was going to wash their feet like Jesus did for his Apostles. “I do this from the heart because we priests should be the first to serve others, not exploit others. Clericalism sometimes leads us down this road. But we must serve.”

Washing feet, he added, “also is a sign of love for these brothers and sisters and for all of you here; a sign that means, ‘I do not judge anyone. I try to serve everyone.’ ”

Prison ministry has become an important outreach in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The late Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein visited area prisons several times when he was our shepherd, as did then-Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin. Archbishop Tobin established a Corrections Ministry Office in 2016—Lynne Weisenbach was its first coordinator—and a task force to make an even deeper commitment to prison ministry.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson continues ministering to both women and men who are incarcerated, letting them know they are not forgotten and are prayed for by him and members of our local Church. Deacon Marc Kellams currently serves as archdiocesan coordinator of Corrections Ministry. He can be reached at mkellams@archindy.org or by calling 317-592-4012.

During a Mass in March of 2018 at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis, Archbishop Thompson baptized and confirmed two inmates—and later gave them their first Communion—as he celebrated Mass and their new life in Christ. In his homily, the archbishop shared a message that Pope Francis once delivered during a visit with prisoners in Bolivia:

“When Jesus becomes part of our lives, we can no longer remain imprisoned by our past. Instead, we begin to look to the present, and we see it differently, with a different kind of hope. We begin to see ourselves and our lives in a different light. We are no longer stuck in the past, but capable of shedding tears and finding in them the strength to make a new start.”

While some view prisons as places of darkness, our faith encourages us to bring the light of Christ to inmates.

May those who visit the incarcerated continue to offer compassion and bring a sense of new hope and new joy to those they serve. And through their actions, may they always remind our brothers and sisters Christ is indeed alive and eager to embrace them with his forgiveness and love.

—Mike Krokos

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