Thursday, October 17, 2002

Detention Ministry Notes

We spent Saturday at the diocesan detention ministry training held at the pastoral center in Fresno. The cool weather (fall finally getting into gear) let Marilee and I have lunch outside in a lovely courtyard, to the lovely accompaniament of the freeway on the other side of the building. There was no shortage of good material presented -- the new diocesan coordinator for detention ministry, Elaine Lopes, did a very good job, especially considering that this was the first session. The Diocese of Fresno has more than 50 detention facilities within its (rather large) boundaries ranging from county jails to every kind of state penal facility to a federal maximun security prison. This includes the world's largest women's prison at Chowchilla, just a half hour south of us (visible from Highway 99 when the lights are on). While there are nearly a dozen professional chaplains working in these various places, and some of the parish clergy help out, much of the work is being done by lay volunteers.

One of the best presenters was a woman who has quite successfully worked with juvenile detainees for 15 years. She told us that (and I am paraphrasing as I did not write this down at the time) when you minister in a jail or prison you are not trying to persuade or present Christian doctrine, you are there to share the love of Jesus Christ. It makes things very simple and very complicated at the same time (given all the restrictions involved in being in such a place) and some people never quite catch on. If someone wants to know more about the Faith, super. But they have to want that first -- and for that they need an example. In the words of St. Francis:

Preach the Gospel at all times -- if necessary use words

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