Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Message of appreciation to Catholic Prison Chaplains on Prison Sunday, 7 November 2021
On behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and in my capacity as the Bishop Delegate for Prisoners’ Pastoral Care within the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, I wish to extend to you my sincere gratitude for your dedication and service to prison ministry during what has been a particularly challenging year.
I acknowledge that the pandemic has raised different issues for you as chaplains, particularly because each State and Territory has been influenced by its own local health orders and regulations that have affected aspects of daily life. Many chaplains have been classified as essential workers and as such have been providing ongoing service in some shape or form. But for others, in-person contact has been almost impossible. This has been a hard adjustment for all concerned.
I am heartened to hear that inmates / residents have been offered COVID-19 vaccinations and I hope that as chaplains, you have also taken up these opportunities to protect yourselves and your loved ones.
I know you have kept on top of many things, especially concerning regular communications from Corrections’ staff due to the dynamic nature of your workplace during the pandemic including, in some instances, additional PPE training that you have undergone and the implementation of rapid antigen testing in some correctional centres.
It is heartening to hear that many of you have been very creative in using this time for ongoing professional development through opportunities available via TED Talks, YouTube and through offerings from theological institutions.
You may remember the special focus during the 2016 Year of Mercy when Pope Francis marked a Jubilee for Prisoners. Continuing that focus, on this Prison Sunday on 7 November 2021, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference recalls the words of the Holy Father Pope Francis:
“The task of a chaplain is to let the prisoners know that the Lord is inside them. No cell is so isolated that it can keep the Lord out. He is there. He cries with them, works with them, hopes with them. His paternal and maternal love arrives everywhere.”
I am pleased to hear that in some jurisdictions, video access has enabled some centres which have been previously deprived of chaplaincy services, to access a chaplain remotely, leading to quality conversations and remote pastoral care especially at times of death in families. I commend you for using such opportunities to “be there” through new forms of technology and by necessity having to reflect on what it means to be present in the digital world. The environment in which you perform chaplaincy alters the interactions with people. We might find ourselves asking, how is it possible to “attend” when one cannot be “present”?
During these times we need to dig deeply into our Catholic tradition, namely the Scripture themes of loss and exile. Thank you for your commitment in distributing weekly liturgies, for your efforts in writing reflections on the Sunday Readings and for your weekly greetings when physical contact has been limited.
Prayer for those in prison ministry
You have given much this year under difficult circumstances. As a sign of the Bishops’ appreciation, please find enclosed a Prayer for Those in Prison Ministry and Prison Ministry Liturgy Resource to mark the gift of presence and hope that you symbolise as prison chaplains.
The Sunday Mass Readings for November 7, 2021: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B offer some insights related to prison ministry. The Gospel of this Sunday contrasts the generous giving of the poor widow with the giving of the rich, who give from the abundance that flows from power and privilege. It seems that in the mind of Jesus the widow best expresses the way of the Spirit of God. She gives from the heart without counting the cost. The ministry to those in prison starts from the standpoint of humility, not from superiority. Jesus came as a slave, as one who served, and who knew the power of being with a person. It is the gift of Chaplains and Pastoral Workers in our prisons to be with the prisoners, to listen attentively from the heart, and to share experiences together. Christ can become present, despite the walls, through this dialogue and can continue to live in the hearts of those who are not free. This is giving from our poverty. This is love.
I also take this opportunity to particularly acknowledge your role in the lives of so many First Nations people who are imprisoned or who visit relatives and friends.
Proposed online gathering of prison chaplains
In order to connect with you and your fellow chaplains, I would welcome your feedback on the possibility of arranging an online gathering of Catholic prison chaplains sometime in the first quarter of next year, to share in a national conversation about your ministry and your insights. Such a gathering could become a twice-yearly event as a way to share resources, learnings and formation opportunities and to connect with each other’s stories. Could you please register your interest in attending such a gathering along with any feedback you may wish to contribute on the proposal by emailing Alison Burt, Executive Secretary, Bishops Commission for Social Justice Mission and Service on firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 26 November 2021.
In closing, I am mindful that your workplaces and communities may be affected by the pandemic for some time to come, and so the following words from Pope Francis provide encouragement in his Message for the Fifth World Day of the Poor, 2021:
“The poor, always and everywhere, evangelize us, because they enable us to discover in new ways the true face of the Father…. We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them.” 
With my great admiration, appreciation, and thanks for all that you do.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Bishop Donald Sproxton
Bishop Delegate, Prisoners’ Pastoral Care
Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Perth, W.A
With thanks to the ACBC.