‘It softens the environment of steel bars’: Bishop Vincent washes the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday

By Antony Lawes, 8 April 2024
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, kisses the feet of an inmate during a Holy Thursday service at John Moroney Correctional Complex in Berkshire Park, Thursday 28 March 2024. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


They might not all be as familiar with the liturgy as regular churchgoers, but the inmates of John Moroney Correctional Centre who attended Mass on Holy Thursday were no less thankful to be receiving communion. 

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, visited the prison to celebrate the Eucharist and washed the feet of prisoners and staff as part of the Holy Thursday liturgy. 

In his homily, he told the gathering of 18 inmates that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper to show that “we are all equal in standing before God”. 

“We don’t have to be imprisoned in our thinking, such as ‘I’m forever behind the eight-ball because I’ve been to John Moroney’,” Bishop Vincent said. “That doesn’t define who we are.” 

Bishop Vincent during the Mass for inmates. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

“What’s more important is the liberation from within. 

“Just remember as I am washing your feet, you have an equal and inherent dignity as a child of God. 

“May this Easter bring you peace, inner freedom and confidence that we can all build a better version of ourselves,” he said. 

Speaking after the service, one of the inmates said he attended Mass every week and did not want to miss this special celebration. 

Bishop Vincent kissing the feet of an inmate. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

“I was born Catholic and I don’t want to let it go away,” he said. 

“Coming to Mass helps clear your mind, when you’re here you’re not just stuck in prison. 

“I have two boys on the outside and every year I would take them to this service with the washing of the feet. 

“It’s the miracle that happens, you can feel the difference in your body.” 

Another inmate who helps in the prison chapel with the chaplain Br Cyril Bosco CFC said attending Mass helps many prisoners. 

“It’s good to get the boys together in jail,” he said. 

“Any service is good for morale because sometimes you can get down in the dumps.” 

Bishop Vincent (centre), with prison chaplain Br Cyril Bosco (far right), chaplain’s assistant Stephen Middleton (far left), the prison’s senior assistant superintendent James Adair (second from left) and chaplaincy coordinator with Catholic Care Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains Bernard Ellis (second from right) after the Mass. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

He said he drifted away from the Church for about 40 years but now attends Mass every week after taking a course run by the interdenominational Kairos Prison Ministry. Now he could not wait to get out to see his family. 

“The richest man is the one with family,” he said. 

Br Cyril, who has been chaplain at John Moroney for about five years, said being away from family, especially at Easter, is hard for prisoners and attending Mass gives them a sense of hope. 

“Change is difficult, it forces us to move into the unknown,” he said. 

“I encourage the inmates to take an assertive stance, to believe they can change direction.” 

After Mass had ended Bishop Vincent had morning tea with the inmates and staff. At the morning tea a senior assistant superintendent at John Moroney, James Adair, thanked Bishop Vincent for his visit. 

“I lot of guys look forward to it,” he said. “It softens the environment of steel bars.” 

Bishop Vincent with the inmate who received his first Holy Communion. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

Inmate receives first Holy Communion 

Afterwards, at a separate service in the prison chapel, an inmate who had not been at the Mass received his first Reconciliation with Bishop Vincent, and then undertook his Sacrament of First Holy Communion. 

The 29-year-old, who had been incarcerated for 13 months, said he was nervous beforehand but had been looking forward to it for months. He had a long time still to serve on his sentence and was struggling.  

“I feel like I need it,” he said. “I’m in a dark place and only now starting to see the light a little bit.” 

He had last been to church as a young boy, but now felt that God was part of his life. 

“It will be with me forever, wherever I go,” he said with tears in his eyes. 


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