04 Editorial - Prison Ministry Sunday 2017

posted Aug 10, 2017, 9:37 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Aug 10, 2017, 11:33 PM ]

A Pastoral Letter

Forgiveness cannot undo the past, but it can enlarge the future." This statement is chosen as the theme of this year's Prison Ministry Sunday. Thoughts of the Year of Mercy are still fresh in our minds. God made Himself known to us as "a God of tenderness, compassion, slow to anger, abounding in mercy." (Ex 34:6) He is a liberating, saving and forgiving God. When God became man in Jesus, He became God's Face of Mercy. Mercy and Forgiveness go hand in hand.

Prison Ministry is entirely a service of Mercy and Forgiveness. The loneliness, powerlessness and hopelessness experienced by those in prison are well known to those engaged in the Ministry for the past many years. Through the celebration of Prison Ministry Sunday, the Church declares to all held in 1,401 prisons in India that they are not alone, and their situation is not hopeless.

The criminal justice system is overburdened; the methods in dealing with criminals are mostly punitive. Yet, the more people are punished, the more crime is committed; society remains in fear. Imprisonment is supposed to offer correction, reform and rehabilitation. But this does not happen in reality; instead, it makes things worse. We know that our prisons and the system have failed to bring down the crime rate. The methods used produce negative results.

The Church offers an alternative by inviting us to turn to JESUS, to imitate His approach and His ways with offenders and sinners, outcasts, untouchables, and all those condemned by the society of His time. The parables of the shepherd and his lost sheep, the woman and her lost coin present powerful points for reflection. God our Father values every lost son or daughter, feels for them, waits for them to "come to their senses"; He waits for their return. God's love is unconditional. God is looking for us. Sometimes, it's a long journey. Prisoners need our support to help them move away from a life of crime and towards the light of God's healing rays. They need the strength of our Faith, Hope and Love. A new approach with understanding and compassion can, in surprising ways, disarm even the most hardened offender. Based on Jesus' values of mercy and forgiveness, we should commit ourselves for the reform of these suffering people. Three proposals are put forward:

First, we work to make the prisons Communities of Hope:

This means we work to change the oppressive sense of hopelessness that pervades the atmosphere of any prison—the result of guilt, silence, solitude etc. Ministers, men and women of Faith, must act as agents and Angels of Hope, making ourselves 'Channels of hope and peace'. Then we can sing with St Francis: "where there is despair, let me bring Hope."

Secondly, we work to make the prisons Communities of Faith:

Human beings are basically spiritual. Healthy spiritual orientation is a pre-requisite for any holistic Reform, which is a must for a lasting result. Faith helps one to listen, to reflect, to forgive. Only faith can give answers to family members who ask a volunteer of Prison Ministry, "Can you give back the mother who was killed by our father?" Faith helps us to cross the borders on the seemingly inaccessible shores.

Thirdly, we work to make the prisons Communities of Restorative Justice:

Restorative justice is a way of responding to a person who has been harmed, a person who has caused harm and the community affected by the harm done. Restorative justice repairs damaged relationships between the offender and his/her family and the community. Remembering the beatification of Sr Rani Maria, let us not forget the hard work and prayers that brought the killer to tears at the feet of her father, mother and family members. This incident is the best example of restorative justice, of building a relationship with the offender, the victim and the community.

We pray for Prison Officers and Staff, for the prisoners who live shattered lives burdened by their own sins, and for all the dedicated volunteers in Prison Ministry. May our patron St Maximilian Kolbe guide us.

Bishop Peter Remigius is the Patron of Prison Ministry India