Prayer for inmates of prison cells is among activities being taken up by Catholic groups and organisations throughout New Zealand during the Catholic Church’s annual Social Justice Week which begins on Sunday 13 September.
Each year, Social Justice Week focuses on a particular social issue. This year the theme is “A justice that reconciles”. The week is organised by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand - the Catholic bishops’ agency for justice, peace and development.
Director Michael Smith says Caritas decided last year to tackle this theme in 2009, due to the rising prison numbers and increasingly punitive attitudes towards offenders.
“Our Catholic Bishops are asking us to re-examine our attitudes to how we respond to crime. We hope Social Justice Week will encourage people to ask whether our criminal justice procedures are helping offenders to repent, victims to heal and the community to feel safer.”
In a recent statement on imprisonment http://www.catholic.org.nz/statements/0907prison.php New Zealand’s Catholic bishops stressed that reconciliation, not revenge, must become the focus of the justice system in order to create a safer and more secure society.
Bishop Barry Jones of Christchurch is the bishops’ representative on the Prison Chaplaincy Service of Aotearoa New Zealand Board.
He says that “neither repentance nor forgiveness can occur without love and support, nor can either take place in an environment of bitterness and vengeance”.
“Such support is lacking far too often in our current criminal justice system. Church ministers speak of a constant deterioration in prison conditions and of greater stigma for people trying to turn their lives around and reintegrate back into society”.
Bishop Jones hopes that Social Justice Week will help Catholic people realise how life-changing the experience of being in prison is.
“It can lead to worse offending, or it can lead to people never offending again,” he says.
“The Church believes time in prison should always hold out that hope of change towards the good”.
Caritas has prepared resources for parishes, schools, youth groups and the wider community. These include the Social Justice Week booklet "A justice that reconciles"; a CD Rom for schools "The Courage to Forgive"; and a CD for youth groups "Justice is about restoration", available at www.caritas.org.nz or from the Caritas office, ph 04 496 1742 04 496 1742
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference statement Revenge or Reconciliation is available at http://www.catholic.org.nz/statements/0907prison.php