Overview

 

Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone

– John 8:7

Going to prison is the punishment that is imposed by the Courts. The remainder of the sentence should be about rehabilitation, learning new life skills and creating lasting change. When someone enters the prison they are stripped of all that is familiar which can include their sense of identity and control. From when they enter the prison where everything is regulated and most rights are withdrawn  it can be like going to a foreign country.

Loneliness is a major issue for those in prison: they are disconnected from all that they know and all their connections. It is felt particularly by those who are in prison for the first time and those who miss the birth of a baby or cannot attend the funeral of a loved one who has died. This intense pain can lead to depression and isolation.

There are currently 16 public and 2  private prisons in New Zealand (3 for women and 14 for men).

At any one time there are about 8,500 people in New Zealand Prisons. For each one of them there are numerous others in the community who are affected: families, victims, wider society and children: about 20,000 children have a parent in prison. Up to 55% of those in prison are between 15 and 30 years of age and the evidence tells us the younger a person is imprisoned the more likely they are to reoffend.

We as Church can assist people in prison and those released from prison by showing them the gaze of Jesus, by warming and healing their hearts with our gaze, just by walking beside them and recognising God in them. This demands of all of us big hearts, big minds, wisdom, courage, sensitivity and an expanded humanity.
Through listening to Jesus call and following the example of Pope Francis to be compassionate, we will find ourselves being tender to all that is broken and fragile, lost and alone in this world for the Divine shines among us.

               “As Catholics we do not discount the terrible reality of the harm caused by criminal  offending, but at the same time,we know that God’s love does not give up on anyone. In Pope John Paul II’s message for the Jubilee in Prisons he reminded us that prisons can be places of redemption, and that not to promote the interests of prisoners would be “to make imprisonment a mere act of vengeance on the part of society, provoking only hatred in the prisoners themselves”. God calls even the worst of offenders to change, and offers healing to those victims of crime able to find the courage to forgive.”

 - The NZ Catholic Bishops in their statement 'Revenge or Reconciliation' (2009) 

The Catholic Church’s commitment to the Gospel mandate to provide for those in prison has a long history and tradition of providing ministers to promote and share the Gospel message of Christ’s salvation, to celebrate the sacraments, and to provide pastoral care, counsel and support to those who are in prison. The New Zealand Bishops carry out this ministry in partnership with Prison Chaplaincy New Zealand as a separate but integrated part of a national prison chaplaincy service in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Every prison has a Catholic Chaplain working alongside the Ecumenical Chaplains to provide for the spiritual needs and pastoral care of the inmates. To find out who the Catholic Chaplain is at your local prison please see the list of chaplains here.  As at May 2015 there are some vacancies and these contacts will be added as new appointments are made.

Pope Francis called on the (prison chaplains) to express Christ closeness with gestures, words and with their hearts. Acknowledging the demands of their ministry, Pope Francis told the chaplains that their mission is important, one that brings the closeness of Christ to those in need of hope.

 

 

No cell is so isolated as to exclude the Lord, none. He is there, he weeps with them, works with them, waits with them. His paternal and maternal love reaches everywhere.

 

  - Pope Francis

Image: Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons