WINNIPEG - Prison ministry is a call to live out part of Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks of feeding the hungry, welcoming the unwanted, caring for the poor and sick and reaching out to the imprisoned.
"Jesus was pretty serious about all that, but by and large Christians have made this optional, and it's not optional," Archbishop James Weisgerber said at a Nov. 15 gathering.
The archbishop spoke to prison chaplains, ex-offenders, deacons, family and friends of the imprisoned and others at Micah House, the Winnipeg Archdiocese's Catholic Centre for Social Justice.
Weisgerber said prison ministry is "under the radar, and it's very encouraging to see so many of you."
A prison ministry volunteer, Kim, a wife and mother, became involved by attending an annual one-day prison retreat for lay people.
Kim joined a group from St. Ignatius Parish that attends a monthly Mass with inmates and volunteers with Next Step.
"I see the support they need for the transition from an institution back into the community," she said. "It's not my role to judge, it's about dignity and respect for human beings."
Adrian, an ex-offender, spoke of his life in and out of jail. He described living in an "unstructured household," the death of a younger brother and a mother unable to cope. He turned to gangs and crime.
At 16, he was jailed for car theft. His initial fear of prison turned into tolerance. "I'd keep going back and it was like an old boys' reunion. I never found any encouragement to do something with my life."
Adrian said he found the prison ministry and discovered he had goals. He started a college course in landscaping.
"What keeps me on track are things like Next Step, where I get encouragement and guidance to not fall in with my old crowd again. I'm very grateful and thankful for those volunteers," he said.
Upon release, ex-offenders will likely go back to their old friends and old ways of life because they have so little and nowhere else to go.
A safe place such as Quixote House in downtown Winnipeg, created by the Jesuits, provides a chance to live for a time in a supportive environment and find new opportunities.
Gordon, currently on parole, has been living at Quixote House. "It's been very helpful," he said.