At the end of May 2016, during the General Audience of Pope Francis with representatives of the permanent diaconate, Rev. Edwin Ng, the deacon in charge of Hong Kong diocese’s prison ministry had a private audience with the Holy Father. I had invited inmates to write or draw pictures, as they wished, for the Pope, knowing that these letters would be personally given him. Most letters were in Spanish, speaking very movingly as children to a loving father. When Pope Francis saw the letter on top, which was a picture of “Praying Hands” drawn by inmates at Shek Pik Correctional Institution, as well as their multi-lingual greetings to him underneath, he smiled at Deacon Edwin, and said “God bless them.”
I would like to offer a taste for some of the letters the Holy Father received, as a sign of our solidarity also with these men, so far from their families and countries. Almost all of these men were arrested for carrying drugs in their body or luggage at the airport or in the city, on their way to handing it over to agents who promised them large amounts of money.
A joint letter from Latin American inmates at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre:
Esteemed Holy Father, please receive our warmest greetings, not only to yourself but to the whole Catholic Church in the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through this card, we would like you to know the situation in which we are living. It is a “cry for help,” and thus we have allowed our hearts to speak to you. Most of us Latinos have no other language than Spanish, and our inability to speak English or Cantonese compounds our difficulites. We hope that in spite of the distance from our countries, that we not be forgotten, but that there might somehow be ways found – even, yes, knowing we need to pay for our crimes – that the length of our suffering exile here might be shortened.
May the Creator of All, the King of Love and Peace, give us the faith and the confidence that we need.
This one is from a Nigerian inmate in Stanley Prison:
Dearest Father, how are you? How are all the families in Vatican City? We are all happy and glad to know of your planned visit to China. We want to remind you that Hong Kong is part of China, and we your children in prison will be looking forward to see you!
From a Colombian inmate at Shek Pik:
We went on a dangerous and unknown journey, which has now given us an infinity of problems and put in peril our own lives and that of our families. For the great majority of us (drug mules), we have ended up in prison and truly realize our great mistake. We and our families are the big losers, while the nets of the drug traffickers remain unbroken and they carry on freely with their business.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we bearers of good news to all with whom Christ identified himself so closely: “I was sick and you visited me, in prison – you came to see me…” (Mt 25: 31-46)
Fr. Patrick Colgan serves on the Society’s general council in Hong Kong.