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Prisons Week of Prayer

Thursday, November 24, 2011
This week is Prisons Week: An ecumenical week of prayer in England and Wales for prisoners and prison ministry. It had its beginnings in 1975, as a Catholic initiative led by Bishop Victor Guazzelli, a beloved Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and titular Bishop of Lindisfarne. Br. Robert Verrill OP offers a reflection based on his own experiences in prison ministry.

As a prison chaplain, often one of the first things a prisoner will ask is 'have you got any rosaries?' This is a great preaching opportunity. When giving out rosaries, prisoners are usually very interested in learning how to say this prayer. For some people, their time in prison is the first time they've every really thought deeply about their faith. The words 'forgive us our trespasses' and 'pray for us sinners now,' can be especially powerful to those who are trying to come to terms with what they've done. In some people, you can see a dramatic change in them once they start to believe that God really loves them and that they're not beyond the pale.

Still, one cannot help being concerned about the kind of life such people will go back to once they are released. They may leave prison full of hope, that with their new found faith, they really will manage to stay out of trouble. For some this genuinely will be the case, but for many others, the odds are stacked so highly against them, it's hard to see how they can possibly cope. If the only person who offers them a roof over their head is a drug dealer, they don't really stand much chance.

In the Gospels, Jesus is described as a friend of sinners, so as Christ's body the Church, it is not an option to ignore those who are in most need of God's forgiveness. It is hard to know how to help such people, but as the saying goes, charity begins at home. Our home is the Church, so it would be a good start if there were more structures in place to help our Catholic brothers and sisters who are trapped in the criminal underworld. This week is prisons week of prayer, so it is a good time to pray for guidance and inspiration on how to address these problems. Christ came to save sinners, and so as members of Christ's body, we should not only be mindful of our own salvation, but also of the salvation of others.

Robert Verrill OP


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