Why Serve the Imprisoned

“For I was….in prison and you came to see me” (Mt. 25:36).

A handful of parishioners from St. Charles Borromeo, St. Joan of Arc and St. Patrick parishes have taken this admonishment to heart. Every Wednesday, going to the Miami Correctional Facility (MCF) is just a part of the weekly routine. Among the group are Bob and Rosemary Rhodes who have been serving in this ministry since 2000.

And, a ministry it is, of sharing the Eucharist, other sacraments, and prayer, including the Rosary. Because of their incarceration, these men do not have the option to decide when they will attend Mass or when they can receive the other sacraments, yet the sacraments are their strength for the journey, their courage to get through the week, and their hope that life can be different. Bringing Jesus to the prison is the most important segment of the ministry, but it is also a ministry of careful and compassionate listening. While volunteers can never forget that there is a reason these men are incarcerated, Bob and Rosemary realize the prisoners need to know that people on the outside still care about and have not given up on them. Bob and Rosemary also believe “that no person is beyond God’s reach.” Our Catholic faith teaches us this. They see their role as planting seeds and then stepping back and letting God do the rest.

The imprisoned men are very appreciative of the Church members who visit. For many of them, the Rhodes and other members of the prison ministry team are the only visitors they have during their entire incarceration. The men are also very grateful for the cards they receive through the St. Charles Borromeo prison card ministry team. A small group of our parishioners come together once a month to send Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and birthday cards at the appropriate times. For many, it is the only mail they receive during their imprisonment.

Statistics show that at least 90% of the incarcerated will be released from prison at some point. It is clearly important that efforts are made to touch their lives while they are still in a prison facility. While the Rhodes are not delusional about the men changing their ways as a result of their presence, they say, “If we’ve helped make a difference in even one man’s life, then it is all worth it.”

The ministry team is in great need of more members. Who qualifies for prison ministry? Simple. We need team members who want to share their faith; are willing to follow the rules of the prison; are free on Wednesday afternoons; and have an open, non-judgmental attitude. Rosemary acknowledges that this ministry is not for everyone, so she suggests that if a person is considering it, he/she should pray to discern if God is actually calling him or her to serve in this capacity. People often tell her they fear going into the prison, yet both of the Rhodes emphasize that they have never been afraid in all of the years they have been involved.

One of the first persons to join Jesus in heaven was a prisoner who was crucified next to Him. Jesus ministered to this man even as he was dying on the cross. He now invites us to carry on His ministry: as the Rhodes say, “Out of our love for Jesus.”

Bob and Rosemary suggest that anyone who thinks they might be interested should try it once with a guest pass. To arrange this, please call the Parish Office at 765-473-5543.

When asked why they keep going back, both of the Rhodes quickly responded that they enjoy it, and when they think about not going, they just can’t bring themselves to give it up. God could be calling you, too, to this fulfilling ministry. Take some time during the next few weeks to pray, listen, and discern. God will let you know, and then all you have to do is make that call.