When we experience Christ’s love, mercy and grace in our lives, we can often appreciate the universal nature of sin. Pope Francis summed this up beautifully when he wrote:
“Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine” Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy.
Another aspect happens to us as well when we experience God’s kindness, we often grow in desire to share this with others.
One of the ways Pope Francis is urging all Catholics in this Year of Mercy to manifest mercy practically is through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works include, importantly, visiting the imprisoned, and the spiritual works include: converting sinners, instructing the ignorant, advising the doubtful and comforting the sorrowful. These are, of course, very relevant to prison ministry as more and more people continually become trapped in a cycle of offending, in and out of prison/young offenders institutes, lacking the spiritual and practical support to be who God wants them to be.
Jesus’ words in regards to prisoners are of course well known: “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:41-43). As you read this you may begin to realise that God is calling you to be a ‘sign of mercy’ by visiting a prisoner and helping them with their practical and spiritual needs. Catholic Chaplains across England and Wales are working extensively within the prison system to build professional relationships with prisoners, resulting in a sizeable number to rediscover their faith and be discipled and mentored in the truths of their faith. However, it is not possible for chaplains to undertake this ministry by themselves.
Although it can sound daunting meeting prisoners, particularly in regards to safety, most prison chaplains will testify that it is actually relatively safe to do so, especially if you follow the safety protocols in the prison. Secondly prisoners generally have a high level of respect for people who take the time out to volunteer in a prison chaplaincy.
There are two ways you can get involved, by contacting the Catholic Chaplaincy in the prison nearest to you and by volunteering to support the Catholic priest particularly at Mass in greeting prisoners. This shows prisoners that they are not forgotten by parishioners outside the prison walls and that they have value irrespective of whether they have committed a crime or not.
The second way is by getting involved in mentoring. Many chaplaincies have recognised that prisoners need particular support just before their release and also in the community to keep away from a life or crime and to continue to grow in their faith. One such charity that trains volunteers to support prisoners in this area is Feltham Community Chaplaincy Trust (FCCT) providing support to Chaplaincy Teams in the Young Offenders Institutes, HMP Feltham and HMP Isis. With a sizeable number of Catholics in prison they are keen for Catholic mentors to be involved. They can be contacted on 020 8844 5585 or firstname.lastname@example.org
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)