Pope Francis frequently reminds all Catholics that the Church is missionary and is called to reach out to the poor, to sinners, to unbelievers and to those who live on the margins of modern society. This challenge galvanized Columban father Michael Hoban and the Church in Chile to reach out to those who feel that there is no place for them in society.
During the Jubilee Year of Mercy (2016), the Archbishop of Chile, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, invited each Vicariate of the Archdiocese to emphasize one of the corporal works of mercy and to implement that particular work of mercy in a special way. The priests, Sisters, deacons and lay pastoral agents of the Vicariate of Maipo decided they were called to live out the corporal work of mercy by visiting and ministering to the imprisoned.
The Chileans based their decision on the fact that the local prison houses 1,300 male inmates, but was built to house just 700 inmates. With nearly double the number of inmates for which the prison was designed, the men are condemned to live in overcrowded conditions in large dormitories with bunk beds. Each bunk bed has mattresses for three men. The man on the top can touch the ceiling with his nose! Many of the inmates come from the Columban parishes of San Matías and Santo Tomás. As Pope Francis teaches us, no matter what sins we may commit, we are never excluded from the love or the mercy of God.
The Vicariate of Maipo organized workshops and courses on prison apostolate, increasing the number of lay pastoral visitors from seven to 30. The increase in volunteers has meant that four days a week, Catholic prisoners can avail of spiritual accompaniment and prayer.
On August 12, 2016, Cardinal Ezzati visited the prison and celebrated the Eucharist for the prisoners. He also blessed the chapel's new tabernacle which was donated by the Apostolic Works of Ennis, Co. Clare in Ireland. Cardinal Ezzati called on the inmates not to lose heart nor lose the faith: "I want to encourage each one of you to develop all your abilities so that you can become new men, so that you can live happily with your families. You should believe firmly that God can give you that possibility."
As the Jubilee Year of Mercy came to an end, Pope Francis wrote a Pastoral Letter, "Misericordia et Miseria." There is no doubt that prisons are necessary in society, but we also need to remember: "No law or precept can prevent God from once more embracing the son (daughter) who returns to him, admitting that he (she) has done wrong but intending to start his (her) life anew." (Pastoral Letter "Misericordia et Miseria" no.11)
Your generous support of Columban missionaries like Fr. Mike allows us to bring the light and life of Jesus Christ to prisons in Chile and around the world. We hope that God's love will bring these prisoners to new life, to help them repair broken relationships and to help them show mercy to others. Thank you for partnering with us and making this work possible.
We are deeply grateful for your prayerful and financial support and remember you always in our Masses and prayers. To learn more or make a secure gift online, visit us at columban.org/donate.
Gratefully yours in Christ,
Fr. Tim Mulroy, Director