On the 6th November, His Grace Archbishop John Ha con-celebrated the 9 am Sunday Mass with the parish priest of the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM), Fr Martin Arlando who is also the Chaplain of the Penang Diocesan Prison Ministry . It was a significant occasion as this was the same day, His Holiness, Pope Francis also celebrated mass with 1000 prisoners, their families, prison staff and volunteers at the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican. It was a day declared by the Pope as the Jubilee of Prisoners and among the prisoners from 12 countries, Malaysia was included.
In his homily, Pope Francis reminded the prisoners that while paying for their crimes it was necessary to never lose hope for the future or the desire for true freedom. In addition, he he said that there was a certain hypocrisy to view prisoners as merely wrongdoers for whom prison was the sole answer without considering the possibility of changing lives through rehabilitation. He reminded everyone that we are all sinners and often unaware that we are prisoners too. Often with our prejudices and false sense of well-being, we imprison ourselves behind walls of individualism and self-sufficiency. Bishop Terry Brady of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia echoed the Pope’s message when he reminded everyone that the Year of Mercy invites each one of us to follow the merciful example of God “… to forgive and love rather than judge and condemn.” He said that among the many people who had spent time in prison included the saints and Jesus and that regardless of the circumstances we all possess human dignity. Bearing this in mind, Pope Francis has reiterated that “No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy.”
With this spirit in mind, the Prison Ministry at CDM decided to prepare a prayer card in four languages (English, Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia and Tamil) for prisoners in the three prisons that they regularly visit around Penang state. The intention of the card was to remind those incarcerated that they were not forgotten and remembered by the Catholic community in their prayers. This card was presented by three children to His Grace Archbishop John Ha at the end of mass who then handed it over to the representatives of the Prison Ministry. The Head of the CDM Prison Ministry and the Penang Diocesan Prison Ministry, Anthony Andrews explained that card will be taken by the faith sharers and shared with the prisoners on their next visit to the prisons. Other than this card, gifts of towels and soap will also be distributed to all prisoners during the coming Advent Masses celebrated in the prisons. These two items were identified during their monthly visits, as some of the basic things that the prisoners badly needed. A future project of the Prison Ministry is the planning of setting up of a skills center for released prisoners to give them a new start in life.
On this day of the Jubilee of Prisoners, when in ancient times, it was the Jewish tradition that prisoners were set free, it is hoped that the prisoners would find solace in knowing that they have not been forgotten and that in God’s mercy they all have hope for the future.
8th November, 2016.