To commemorate Prison Sunday on 7 November, Catholic Outlook spoke to Christian Brother Br Cyril Bosco cfc, a prison chaplain with CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, who has been working at John Morony Correctional Centre, South Windsor, for the past four years. Br Cyril spoke to us about his own work and the important role Prison Chaplains play in our community. He was keen to emphasise that prison ministry is for all inmates, regardless of belief as well as their families who also suffer.
Catholic Outlook: Br Cyril, why did you enter into this ministry in particular?
Br Cyril Bosco cfc: My background is in education and retreat work with senior students and adults. I was struck by the significant issues that our young people have to carry, usually by themselves, with no real support. I was touched by a casual conversation with a former inmate, and came to appreciate that perhaps, I was being called into a role of accompanying inmates on their journey. After further reflection, training and accompanying another chaplain, I took the leap, aware of my limitations and open to the invitation to “come and see”.
CO: Can you outline the types of people and places you minister to?
A chaplain is expected to be a listening, caring, and familiar figure who gives comfort and encouragement. They are to be accepting, objective and trustworthy, conveying reliability and reassurance. Chaplains aim to focus on the total person, providing emotional, pastoral and spiritual support, while also being available to speak about issues of faith. They contribute to the wellbeing of inmates and staff, and also of correctional centres as a whole.
CO: What is a typical visit like?
I regard my time at John Morony as a ministry rather than a job. So, for me it’s a matter of being present to do such things as; conduct chapel services, conduct positive lifestyle programs, respond to requests to speak individually to inmates, accompany staff and listen to their concerns should they wish to speak about religious or day-to-day concerns, answer phone enquiries from families, conduct memorial services and, just as importantly, to walk around the yard and be seen as a presence.
CO: Has the pandemic raised different or additional issues for you?
It has been an incredible challenge to keep COVID out of the prison system and that fight is continuing. While COVID infected people in a number of social settings, we were one of the last NSW frontline sectors to be exposed in the pandemic. This is remarkable given the close proximity in which inmates live. All staff have diligently followed health guidelines and Corrective Services protocols to ensure a high level of protection. All family visits were cancelled and wearing of face masks and shields and PPE gear became mandatory. It has definitely restricted the provision of group programs and services. One of the recent challenges has been conducting memorial services for family members and close friends who have died from COVID.
CO: How have you addressed this?
During this period of shut down, with no chapel services, I printed out the weekly reflection and addressed about 120 envelopes in order to distribute something to the Catholic, Christian, Orthodox and Anglican inmates listed on the database. God’s word is not restricted by the pandemic.
CO: Have you had to minister remotely or online?
No, I avoid this as much as possible and as an essential worker, I have been able to enter having had the necessary “jabs”.
CO: How do you respond to this quote from Pope Francis on the Jubilee for Prisoners in 2016?
“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.”
Inmates are simply ordinary people just like you and me. There is a very thin line between an inmate and a non-inmate. I suppose there would be three main groups of inmates, those that have committed serious crimes, those who have made mistakes, been found guilty and are now dealing with the consequences and those who have been falsely accused and imprisoned unjustly. In my interaction with them, I view them as people, not inmates. Irrespective of their situation, I always look for the God element or goodness that lives within. As a chaplain, I try not to judge and simply be a presence.
CO: How do you relate to the following extract from the letter from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference that was recently sent to prison chaplains relating prison chaplaincy to this Sunday’s readings?
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 have learnt never to assume what is best for an inmate. I had come from a ‘things to be done’ environment. If I interact with an inmate with the intention of what needs to be done, then subconsciously, the agenda becomes mine and not the inmates, despite being motivated by a heartfelt desire to help someone in need. I simply am not in a position to assume they want my help. To do so means I know the kind of help they need without first getting to know or spending time with the inmate. Simply put, I should not see an inmate and jump to the conclusion that he needs assistance. To do so is to discount the individual’s position. I relate from a position of powerlessness. As a chaplain, I do many things, my role is not necessarily to do things for the inmates or staff but I am called to be a presence. This is always a challenging position. It’s all about being in a relationship and building trust.
CO: What is your response to Pope Francis’ message for the 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.
I am constantly in awe of what I am discovering about myself and the way in which the Lord works through others. We are all broken people in need of love, forgiveness and redemption. By being present with the story and circumstances of another, by listening with an open heart, by being non-judgmental, we discover and relearn more about the significance of who we are in God’s eyes. The poor speak to us in uncluttered language because they are genuine people, they are straight shooters and not fake people. They are realistic and reflect the genuineness of their dependence on a Higher Power. It is in letting go, in surrendering and not controlling, that we find ourselves and in turn, are evangelised.
CO: Is there anything we can do to assist you in your work?
Yes, pray for all who live, work and contribute to the rehabilitation of inmates. We don’t want you to feel sorry for inmates. We certainly don’t need your pity. We ask you to support the families of inmates, not judge them. Inmates do need your assistance as they will eventually retake their rightful place in society. You are invited to risk giving them an opportunity for employment, to have the chance of starting once again.
Donate your unused Christmas Cards for inmates to send to their families
Another thing we can all do is donate blank Christmas Cards for inmates to send to their families this Christmas, as cards are not supplied by correctional facilities. The Diocese of Parramatta, through CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, is collecting blank Christmas cards which Br Cyril will distribute to inmates, and organise for their postage. You can leave unused Christmas cards at any CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains office at the following locations:
- Parramatta – Level 2, 10 Victoria Road, Parramatta NSW 2150
- Mamre House – 181 Mamre Road, Orchard Hills NSW 2748
- Blacktown – 51-59 Allawah Street, Blacktown NSW 2148
- Springwood – 3/163 Macquarie Road Springwood NSW 2777
- Emerton (Aboriginal Catholic Services) – 11 Emert Parade, Emerton NSW 2770
Donate to support CatholicCare’s chaplaincy service
CatholicCare’s 15 chaplains provide spiritual and emotional support in four correctional centres and six hospitals in the Diocese of Parramatta. We are thankful for the support of the NSW Government’s Department of Communities & Justice, the Diocese of Parramatta and community donations which enable this important ministry.
Your compassionate gift and prayers today will assist our CatholicCare chaplains to carry on the work of Jesus in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan. To donate, please call 02 8838 3482 or visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/bishops-good-samaritan-appeal-21/