Posts Tagged ‘Prison Ministry’
This past Holy Thursday, Jesuit Father Michael Kennedy, executive director of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, organized Jesuit novices to wash the feet of minors at a Los Angeles juvenile hall, following the lead of Pope Francis, who washed the feet of detainees at a juvenile detention center in Rome. The young people at the center in Los Angeles also wrote letters to the pope, and — much to his surprise — Fr. Kennedy received a response from the pope.
In the letter, Pope Francis wrote: “I was very moved to read the letters you sent to me from the young people of Juvenile Hall and to know that we were close to one another in spirit during the washing of feet on Holy Thursday evening.”
“When I read the letter from the pope, many feelings flowed through me,” Fr. Kennedy wrote in a reflection in The Tidings. “I thought of what Dorothy Day said when working at the margins: ‘To work with the poor is a harsh and dreadful love.’ Most of the time it feels like you are losing. Being at the margins brings its own isolation.”
Fr. Kennedy noted that in a simple letter, Pope Francis “affirmed that the choice to kneel down with a population that society has neglected is where we find God’s presence. With his gesture, he points to where we should serve. Rather than running away from those who are not healthy, we should run toward those who need healing.”
Fr. Kennedy said he realizes a letter will not change the day-to-day workings of being in marginalized places, but “it is a small sign of affirmation from the man at the head of our church. It embodies the Gospel’s message of forgiveness and healing, and it affirms that this is where God truly is.”
When Jesuit Father Mike Kennedy was pastor of Dolores Mission, located in the barrio of East Los Angeles, he witnessed firsthand the impact to the community of having so many of its youth facing life without parole. After serving as pastor from 1994 to 2007, Fr. Kennedy left Dolores Mission to start the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (JRJI) to provide support and hope to juveniles with life sentences.
Through the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a series of meditative prayers helping people find God in their everyday experiences, the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative provides tools that allow prisoners to find healing and forgiveness and to recognize their lives have meaning and purpose. As JRJI’s Executive Director, Fr. Kennedy also reaches out to victims and their families to provide support and healing. The group’s advocacy outreach from its headquarters in Culver City, Calif., includes mobilizing communities to transform the justice system from one that is solely punitive to one that is restorative. Fr. Kennedy has been recognized for JRJI’s efforts to transform the lives of incarcerated youth, their families and communities by the California Chief of Probation Officers and the City of Los Angeles.
In this Ignatian News Network video piece below, you can find out more about Fr. Kennedy and the work of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative to bring hope to Los Angeles’ incarcerated juveniles:
Jesuit Father George Williams recently became the new Catholic chaplain of San Quentin State Prison in California and said of his new job, “God jumps out at you when you least expect it.”
Fr. Williams, who served 15 years in prison ministries in Massachusetts before being appointed to his “dream job” at California’s oldest penitentiary, sees Christ in the Hell’s Angel shouting a greeting, “Hey, from one angel to another, how’s it going?”
He sees Christ in the lifers who are studying theology and said the inmates sometimes stump him with their insightful questions and surprise him with their knowledge of church teaching.
The facility houses nearly 6,000 prisoners, and about a quarter of them are Catholic.
Williams is in charge of a full sacramental calendar: baptisms at Easter; confirmations; confessions, which are significant for their healing and forgiving; the Eucharist; and anointing of the sick.
Although taken aback by San Quentin’s harsh conditions — he wears a bulletproof vest to work — he was pleasantly surprised by the plethora of programs, beautiful Catholic chapel and hordes of volunteers who bring “a humanness here I didn’t expect.”
“You see the Gospel in a totally different light in prison,” Williams said. “The early Christians were no strangers to prison and execution, including Jesus.”
As a Jesuit priest, his mission is to go where the need is greatest, Williams said.
“Nowhere is there a greater need than in the prison system that holds more than 2 million mostly poor and often disenfranchised people,” he said. “I feel a call to respond to that need.”
Read more about Williams at Catholic San Francisco.
Jesuit Father George Williams, a member of the New England Province, has made prison ministry his calling for the past 15 years. He owes his priestly ministry to inmates — he began his work as a Jesuit brother, but inmates pleaded with him to offer the sacraments.
Fr. Williams served as chaplain at a medium-security state prison in Concord, Mass., and recently began work at San Quentin Prison in California.
“We are dealing with the most despised people in our country,” he said of his ministry.
Williams doesn’t expect to perform miracles, but does hope to have an impact at San Quentin, which has more than 5,000 inmates, including a death row.
He said that it’s easy to slip into cynicism or compassion fatigue. He also doesn’t expect that his preaching or counsel will transform the life of a convict. “I can’t fix people,” Williams said. “Measuring success is sometimes to go to the funeral of a person you have confirmed and baptized. You can’t make them be happy or be free.”
Read more about Williams and other Jesuits engaged in prison ministry.
Jesuit Brother Pat Douglas, of the Wisconsin Province, is a youth counselor at the St. Francis Mission in South Dakota, and he works with young men at the juvenile detention center on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation. He sees his ministry as a way of making an impact on young people in trouble.
Spirituality is very strong here, Br. Douglas says. The Lakota people see no separation between counseling and spirituality.
Douglas has developed a mentoring program for young men, “many [who are] active in gangs and from families plagued by alcoholism and abuse.
“I’m all for consequences,” Douglas says, “but if we do not address the hurts these young men have had since they were children, they will keep hurting others. To be empathetic to a perpetrator does not mean you condone what they do.”
Douglas sees Jesuit spirituality coming alive through his work.
“I pray before and after I meet with the guys,” he says. “I also know the limitations of my skills, and have many times asked questions or offered advice that I know is beyond me. I consistently feel the Holy Spirit working with me and these young men.”
For more on Jesuits engaged in prison ministry, visit the Wisconsin Province website.