This week is Prisons Week and runs until Sunday 21st October.
“Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place.” Hebrews 13:3 CEB
During this week we have been encouraged to pray for those who are in prison, either because they have been convicted of a criminal offence requiring imprisonment or because they are individuals who have been imprisoned because of their political, religious or cultural beliefs.
As part of the Cycle of Prayer the Church asks us to remember prisoners and their families in our prayers at this time of year. We pray for all victims of crime and those who have been affected in some way by their actions and all who suffer as a result of being mistreated by others.
During His Sacred Passion, Jesus Himself became a prisoner and was badly treated and tortured whilst in custody. Although He had done no wrong and had committed no sin to deserve the death penalty, Jesus was put to death and treated as the worst of criminals by being crucified. Jesus allowed this to happen so He could save us by His death and set us free from our sins. His cousin, John the Baptist was also imprisoned by Herod and was later beheaded whilst in prison. All of the Apostles of Jesus were eventually imprisoned and put to death or exiled in prison for the sake of the Gospel. Saint Paul was imprisoned many times and towards the end of his life spent his days chained permanently to a Roman soldier who guarded him. Many of the Saints who have died over the last few thousand years spent some time in prison or under house arrest. In Matthew’s Gospel we read that Jesus said if we visited someone in prison we would be visiting Him.
Last Sunday, in a beautiful and moving ceremony in St Peter’s Square, our Holy Father Pope Francis canonized (made Saints) 6 individuals. Among them was Archbishop Oscar Romero who was Archbishop of San Salvador in the South American country of El Salvador. On 24th March 1980, Archbishop Romero was celebrating Mass in the hospital Chapel where he lived. He was shot in the heart and killed as he lifted up the host during the consecration. It is possible that members of the El Salvadorian army killed Archbishop Romero because he chose to stand up for the people whom he loved and served as their Pastor. Oscar Romero chose to fight against the violence, injustice and oppression of the government on its people. His best friend, also a priest was imprisoned and was later tortured and killed because he chose to bring about change for the people he ministered to. He visited people in prison many times and he sought to bring them comfort and hope which comes from deep faith in Jesus.
Archbishop Romero fought for peace, love, hope and justice and gave his life for the good news of Jesus Christ as he stood firm in his beliefs. He had such courage and faith in his Lord which strengthened him and made him a powerful person as he stood up to the authorities.
This weekend, let us pause to remember the legacy of St Oscar Romero, Archbishop and all those who are in prison, their families and friends and those who work and minister to them inside. Within the Parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, there are two HM Prisons. As part of the ministry of the Church, the Catholic prisoners there receive pastoral care and support from the Parish Clergy and lay people who minister to them every week. There are opportunities for Catholic prisoners to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, as they receive Jesus in the Eucharist at Holy Mass that Father celebrates with them. There are lay people who choose to be Prison Visitors and befriend those who are in prison who have no family members of friends able to visit them.
Our Prayer this week:
Lord Jesus, we remember before You all those who are prison, their families and friends and those who work and minister to them in Your Name. We remember all those who have been unjustly and cruelly treated because of their religious faith and political beliefs. We give thanks for the work of Prison Ministries and organisations such as Amnesty International who bring Your hope, comfort and light to those who sit in the darkness of prison. Help us to remember that You were a prisoner once, and whatever we do to the least of these brothers and sisters of Yours we are doing it to You, Lord. In Your Name we pray. Amen.