Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.Heb. 13: 3
Brother Henrique Matos CMM is involved in the prison chaplaincy in the Bicas detention complex in Brazil through the APC foundation (Apoio à Pastoral Carcerária – Prison Chaplaincy Support).
What does a pastoral worker in prison do?
Pastoral work in prison is the evangelizing presence of the Catholic Church in prison. The pastoral worker visits prisoners in the name of Jesus and he or she tries to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit in this work. The pastoral worker in the prison chaplaincy knows that God is already present in the reality of the prison, both in the person of the prisoner and in his or her cell-room. God, a loving and merciful Father, does not exclude anyone and wants everyone to be able to reach the fullness of life. In visiting the prisoner, the pastoral worker embodies this message of faith, hope, and above all, divine love that knows no boundaries.
The pastoral worker strives to humanize the prison system and to reintegrate the prisoner into society. He treats the prisoner with respect and recognizes his dignity as a child of God and as a citizen, with all the human rights that the law offers him, except the freedom to go where he wants, for a certain time.
The prison chaplain’s deeper motivation is mercy, in a threefold dimension (cf. Lk 10: 25-37):
- To see reality as it is, both from the point of view of the prisoner and from the situation in which he finds himself.
- The inner being moved by what one sees.
- Getting in motion: doing something to relieve the suffering. This can be done through personal closeness, words of solidarity, comfort, encouragement and advice, prayer, help with basic needs, good literature and religious objects that express faith.
No forced conversions
A pastoral worker in prison does not advertise a church and does not necessarily want to recruit new ‘followers’ for a particular religious confession. Nor does the pastoral worker give priority to Eucharistic celebrations or prayer services, because he prefers personal contact with the prisoner, following the example of Jesus. Jesus was among us as the living presence of the “Father of all mercy and God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). He did not exclude anyone, and offered to all, without exception, salvation and access to new life in the fullness of love.
Listening and hearing
The pastoral worker tries to ‘hear’. The pastoral workers do not only want to ‘listen’ to what the prisoner says, but they want to listen consciously, with attention, understanding and empathy. They want to ‘hear’ the story of the prisoner. This creates a dialogue in which the prisoner feels that he or she is appreciated for his or her personal uniqueness. This gives room for mutual trust and acceptance; very important elements in the difficult process of personal, family and community reintegration.
To become a pastoral worker in prison chaplaincy, good preparation is needed. The APC, where Brother Henrique works, refers to the distance learning (EAD) of the Catholic University of Don Bosco UCDB) in Campo Grande (MS) in Brazil, but also in other countries there are universities and other institutes that offer courses in prison chaplaincy, also for lay people.
Brother Lawrence Obiko, superior general of the Brothers CMM, visiting APC.
Staff and co-workers of APC.