Sunday 9 October is Prisoners’ Sunday. The gospel reading will tell the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. These were people in the time of Jesus who were isolated and excluded from the community.
Pact is the national Catholic charity providing support for prisoners and their families. We are there for people at every stage of the criminal justice system: in courts; in prison; in prison visitor centres; on release; and in the community. We believe that everyone can make a fresh start.
Following one of Pact’s recent Justpeople workshops, one parishioner described experience of the criminal justice system as a part of the parish that is ‘under wraps’ most of the time. Prisoners and their children and families are often isolated and excluded in our society today – and perhaps in our parishes too. Prisoners’ Sunday is a time to reflect on how we as individuals, as a Church and as communities are serving those affected by imprisonment.
A young woman shared with Pact the experiences of her family and of her brother who is in prison – something they never expected. Recalling the distressing difficulties for the family of keeping in touch and supporting her brother, she pointed out that the criminal justice system is a place ‘where love is needed most.’
This year Pact’s President, Cardinal Nichols, says, ‘It is good to know that Pact is there for people of all faiths and none, supporting prisoners and their families on our behalf and with our help.’
As a first for us at Pact, our bishops will be celebrating Mass for Prisoners’ Sunday in four cathedrals. Their commitment and prayerful concern join together with that of many Catholic people who take seriously Jesus’ words, ‘I was in prison and you visited me’ Matt 25:36.
If you are nearby, please know you are invited to go and support Mass for Prisoners’ Sunday in these Catholic cathedrals on Sunday morning: Southwark at 10am, Arundel & Brighton at 11.15 am, Nottingham at 10am and Wrexham at 10.30am. Pact CEO Andy Keen-Downs said, ‘How beautiful and how fitting that the needs of prisoners and their families are being brought before the Lord in cathedrals as well as in parishes.’
We know many parishes will be marking Prisoners’ Sunday. In fact, Pact’s Faith in Action team and our Parish Representatives have organised some awareness-raising events already: a film night in Leicester, a parish-prison pilgrimage from Carshalton Beeches to HMP Downview, and a wide variety of presentations and talks. Pact staff, volunteers and supporters will be speaking in Catholic churches at the weekend, and in other Christian churches, and at ecumenical services in lots of dioceses and areas.
Everyone at Pact would like to say a warm thank you to all those who are helping to bring the needs of prisoners and their families to the attention of church communities this weekend. For those in a position to give, we are grateful for your financial support which means we can give more help in the year ahead. Most importantly though we deeply appreciate prayers and, among parish communities, an increase in understanding and goodwill towards those affected by the criminal justice system. Someone we have been working with said, ‘Pact is like a little light. It gives you hope.’ Please consider what you can do to help us give hope to people affected by the criminal justice system in the year ahead. We need volunteers, new staff members, parish representatives, one-off and regular donors, pray-ers and ordinary people who want to help in big or small ways. We welcome people with lived experience of the criminal justice system.
Photo: © Andy Aitchison