By learning from past mistakes, you can open a new chapter of your lives.’ Pope Francis to prisoners
Just over 10.35 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world with USA having the highest prison population at 2.217 million people followed by China at 1.649 million people. Recent statistics (2017) shows that there are an estimated 161,984 inmates in South African prisons, 44,236 are remand detainees, 111,142 are sentenced, and 4,185 inmates are in custody because they cannot afford bail. Every month in South Africa an estimated 23,000 inmates exit correctional centres while at the same time 25,000 are admitted with poverty and unemployment as the two main crime drivers. The SA government spends R329.23 (23 EUR) per day on one inmate, that is R9, 876.09 (670 EUR) per prisoner per month. (NICRO – 2014). The Mill Hill missionaries in South Africa are actively involved in the spiritual care and pastoral support of inmates at different correctional facilities in the diocese of Kroonstad. Frs John Doran and Anthony Ndichia are actively involved in prison work in Kroonstad and Sasolburg towns.
“I was in prison and you visited me….as often as you did this to one of these you did it to me” Mtt 25:36.
We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. MHM are giving special care to male and female maximum sections of the prisons where murderers, rapists and those with serious crimes that either caused loss of human life or property are housed. As part time chaplains to these centres they ensure that spiritual care is rendered to the needs of inmates through care service programs, promoting rehabilitation and successful reintegration of offenders into the society. With the help of lay volunteers, masses are offered, spiritual counselling given, healing services provided, as well as organising human development workshops and giving the sacraments to the inmates. This builds on the beautiful words of Madiba: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela
Over the years, I have seen inmates thirsty for the sacraments. Some non-Catholics want to become Catholics. They are fascinated by the Catholic faith especially praying the rosary. Some have asked to be baptized and some to be received into the Catholic Church. It has been a journey of hope for many of them. Inmates have always longed to have visitors. Indeed the prison is a lonely place to be! Some greatly miss their families, relatives and friends. A visitor known or unknown at the prison is always welcomed and much appreciated. When inmates come together, they form friends and eventually grow into one big family. As members of the Catholic family, they know each other and support one another spiritually. Inmates become godfathers to other inmates at the reception of different sacraments of the Church. They pray together and support one another in their faith journey. “Situations can change; people can change. Be the first to seek to bring good. Do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it with good,” says Pope Francis.
Amazing stories from prison have revealed that nothing is lost while in prison. It opens an area of opportunities for people to change and grow and perhaps become better people. I have seen many good people at the prison young and old. As the saying goes, for the prisoners, history starts today, and looks to the future. As they learn from their errors, they start all over again.
As one reflects back on mission to the abandoned and the most disadvantaged in the society, one is filled with hope for the future of mission. The words of Pope Francis encourages the inmates and perhaps us too: Hope is a gift of God. We must ask for it. It is placed deep within each human heart in order to shed light on this life, so often troubled and clouded by so many situations that bring sadness and pain. We need to nourish the roots of our hope so that they can bear fruit; primarily, the certainty of God’s closeness and compassion, despite whatever evil we have done.” “There is no corner of our heart that cannot be touched by God’s love,” Francis said, noting, “May none of you allow yourselves to be held captive by the past!” The Pope acknowledge that we can never rewrite the past, even if we wanted to.
Fr Anthony Ndang Ndichia mhm