The Australian Church is observing Prison Sunday on 10 November 2019.
Prison Sunday was a response from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) to mark the Jubilee for Prisoners, which Pope Francis initiated as part of the Year of Mercy in 2016.
The ACBC and the Australian Catholic Prisoners Pastoral Care Council is encouraging the faithful around this time to reach out to prisoners, their families, prison chaplains, victims of crime and those working in the prison system.
Prison Chaplaincy is becoming increasingly vital as the population of Australia’s corrections system expands, conservatively costing the country $16 billion annually. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, at the end of March 2019, there were 43,320 people in prison across Australia representing a 30% increase in 5 years or 71% in the last decade.
During 6 and 7 September, Catholic prison chaplains gathered in Melbourne for formation, professional development, spiritual nourishment and fellowship with peers.
At the end of the gathering, they were asked to share messages to the Catholic community about prison ministry.
“it’s not a ministry for everyone. It’s a rewarding ministry in terms of being a missionary for Christ in prisons,” one chaplain said.
“If each of us hopes for God’s forgiveness and mercy, who are we to deny this to a brother or sister human being? For me, Catholic prison ministry is about being the face of Christ to the prisoners, respecting their dignity and hopefully helping them towards healing. The broader Catholic community has a role in helping them to regain their place in society and to once again feel that they belong,” another chaplain said.
“It is an honour to go into a prison and be the face of Jesus for those we meet and to offer a handshake in a friendly manner that will convey God’s infinite mercy to the men and women we cross paths with, no matter what faith they have or if indeed they have no faith at all. Entering a prison and encountering prisoners with a non-judgemental attitude can often pave the way for a prisoner to have the courage to approach a chaplain in their search to find God, to find meaning in their lives or to develop and nourish their faith,” another chaplain said.
“Jesus said: ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ My experience in prison ministry has led me to meeting our God incarnate in the marginalised of society,” a chaplain explained.
“It is a privilege to journey with men and women in prisons. I feel very encouraged with the various prayer experiences of these two days [at the gathering] thank you for your support. Please pray for all men and women and youth in prisons and detention centres,” another chaplain said.
Bishop Don Sproxton, the Bishop Delegate to the Australian Catholic Prisoners Pastoral Care Council, said prison chaplains and youth justice ministers had a special but challenging role as they fulfilled their mission to respond to God’s call to stand with, serve and bring freedom to the poor, disadvantaged, oppressed and imprisoned.
“We know that the majority of Australia’s prisoners come from the most disadvantaged sections of the community: Indigenous people, the underprivileged and those suffering mental illness,” Bishop Sproxton said.
If you are interested in taking part in prison ministry, please contact your local parish office or visit the CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains website for more information.
With thanks to the ACBC and to the Australian Catholic Prisoners Pastoral Care Council.