Pope Francis inspires us to care for prisoners Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Jul. 16, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
7-16-15 editorial
Pope Francis greets inmates after celebrating Mass in 2015 at a prison in Rome. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

How we will be judged

Pope Francis apparently takes to heart the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel on how we will be evaluated on judgment day: Did we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit prisoners?

I think many of us feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but many of us — including myself — do not visit prisoners. There are some priests and lay people in our diocese involved in prison ministry, but they are exceptions.

During a general audience talk in 2014 reported by Catholic News Service, Pope Francis said he knew many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of visiting someone in prison. They think, “It’s dangerous! They are bad people,” he said. But he told the people in St. Peter’s Square, “Listen up. All of us are capable of sinning and making the same mistake in life. They are not worse than you and I!”

Pope Francis focuses on the importance of showing mercy to everyone, even those who have strayed.

Journey of rehabilitation

Visiting a prison last year, the pope told inmates, “We all make mistakes in life. And we all must ask forgiveness and make a journey of rehabilitation so we don’t make them again.”

What can we do to help prisoners? At the very least, we can pray for them, their families, and those who work with them. If possible, we can consider being part of prison ministry in our parishes.

We can also help ex-offenders reintegrate into our communities by offering educational opportunities, jobs, and housing. We can also encourage our representatives in Congress to support legislation to help ex-offenders.

Getting a second chance

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Sr. Donna Markham, head of Catholic Charities USA, recently urged Congress to pass legislation to help more than 650,000 men, women, and juveniles who re-enter society each year from prisons, jails, and detention centers.

They wrote in support of the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, a 2008 law that authorized the use of federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to help people who are returning from prisons, jails,  and juvenile facilities.

They said efforts to help these individuals will “not only enhance public safety by providing the necessary resources to address prisoner re-entry and recidivism, but promote human dignity by improving the quality of life in communities across the country.”

Wisconsin policies

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) legislative priorities for 2015 encourage our state’s criminal justice system to reflect the principles of the WCC’s statement, Public Safety, the Common Good, and the Church.

Specifically, this means: 1) victims of crime, including the community at large, must have opportunities to be healed and restored; 2) policies, even those that enforce strict punishment, must serve the end of rehabilitation; 3) sentencing and inmate release policies must reflect restorative justice principles; and 4) corrections policies must make special efforts to reintegrate poor and marginalized offenders into society.

The state bishops say policies “should serve to reunite the offender with the community and supportive institutions of family, church, and neighborhood.”

Our Catholic faith calls us to show mercy to everyone, including prisoners and ex-offenders. It may not be easy for many of us, but Pope Francis is setting an example for us to follow. Let’s prayerfully consider what we can do.