of DESMOND CARDINAL CONNELL
COMMISSION OF CATHOLIC PRISON PASTORAL CARE
ST. PATRICK’S COLLEGE, MAYNOOTH
and sisters, it is a great honour to share the word of God with you today. As
you gather for the Eleventh international conference of Catholic Prison
Chaplains. ICCPPC, the readings today speak to the very heart of your work.
In the First reading from Isaiah God speaks to those who are afraid, Be
strong, fear not. I am sure that many, if not all of you have spoken
those 4 words – to prisoners who felt abandoned or forgotten, whose lives were
broken by guilt or shame or who were frightened and afraid on arriving in prison
for the first time. Most tragically
of all, some of you here will have spoken those or very similar words to
prisoners awaiting execution. In your compassion and pastoral care you are
ambassadors of Christ to a broken world.
Our Psalm speaks to prisoners too The
Lord sets captives free….and raises up those who were bowed down. Our
God is a God of Justice. You must
be people who build justice, demand justice, and you must be champions of
justice. Not the justice of this world, which so often just appeases public
opinion, but the justice of God: a
justice that restores and heals, a justice of compassion love and mercy.
You will not need to be told by me about the importance of restorative
justice. Indeed prison chaplains
throughout the world have been at the vanguard of the campaign for restorative
In Mark’s Gospel today Jesus heals the deaf man who had a speech impediment.
Perhaps unable to hear any but muffled sounds,
he never learned to formulate the right sounds. One defect was caused by
In your discussions and deliberations over the next week you will I would hope
reflect on the man in today’s Gospel? The
causes of crime are varied, and while we can not ignore personal responsibility
or indeed personal irresponsibility, it is beyond doubt that one of the major
factors in the cause of crime and criminal behaviour is poverty and social
disadvantage. In prison you find the poor far more than the wealthy, the
vulnerable far more than the strong, the disadvantaged more than the
In healing the deaf man who had a speech impediment we see that Jesus wishes to
change not just the effect but the cause as well.
I do not feel that I am a stranger here today. On my return to Ireland after the
last Consistory at which His Holiness, Pope John Paul elevated me to the College of Cardinals, my first pastoral
visit on my return to Ireland was to a Prison in Dublin for the celebration of Eucharist. It was not my first visit
to a prison in my Diocese and it has not been my last. I have been touched by
the dedication of many Irish Prison Officers who care so diligently for our
prisoners. In particular I greatly appreciate the dedication and commitment of
the prison chaplains in my diocese, and in this country. I know that prison
chaplains are people of dedication. Your Ministry must surely be the most
demanding pastoral ministry within the Church.
Many of you must feel frustrated at times when confronted with failures,
or with the slow pace of change. As you try to make what can be an inhumane
system more humane, realise that although change will not happen overnight, God
is with you. Of this you must be
Prison Chaplains have a friend and advocate in Pope John Paul and I would like
to re-echo the words of the Holy Father in his exhortation for Jubilee Year when
he said. Prisons should not be a corrupting experience, a place of
idleness but instead a place of redemption
During the last 24 hours before his crucifixion Jesus of Nazareth was a
prisoner. Though innocent he was a
wanted man, arrested, taken into custody, interrogated, accused, judged,
sentenced and finally executed He passed through the criminal justice system of
the time, and in doing so he sanctified the most
despised of society. He died with a prisoner by each side. The Church
which began its life at Pentecost spent its formative years in prisons and the
Church can be said to have grown to maturity in prison cells.
St. Paul whose life shows us that people can and do change died a
prisoner Most of the early Popes died as prisoners
and here in this very diocese our Martyrs died as prisoners.
The early Eucharistic prayers always mentioned those in prison and that
connection is continued today by the Church in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer
To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners
freedom, and to those is sorrow joy.
I know that prisoners here in Ireland easily identify with the Good Friday
liturgy, and I am sure that your prisoners do so also - because of its setting,
Betrayal-Arrest-interrogation-Trial-Conviction-Execution - A mother and her
friends crying at the brutality and sacrilege of it all.
However we must not forget that Good Friday is not the end, it is a tragic part
of the story but not the fullness of the story. The fullness is the
Resurrection; Easter Sunday is the undoing of what was done on Good Friday.
There must be Resurrection in your ministry. When a drug addict climbs out of
the grave of addiction, he is a person of the resurrection, when sex-offenders
change their behaviour they too are people of the resurrection.
The resurrection must not just be seen as something which is an historic event
in the life of Jesus or a future-hoped-for-event for the individual, it must be
today, and we must be people of the resurrection. Here and now, during this
Conference and in the prison cells of the world.
It is important to also be aware of the victims of crime. Many people are
seriously damaged by what is wrongly called minor crime. Even something which
appears minor, such as a woman having their purse robbed or a man having his
wallet stolen can cause severe trauma. In some cases the victims of crime spend
the rest of their life in their own prison. Where every noise at night not
matter how innocent has the potential to cause unimaginable fear. Victims have
often been ignored, and once they have given evidence and the trial concluded
they have been forgotten, and left to deal with pain on their own, in the vain
hope that they would somehow just get over it. As a Church, as a Society and as
a State we have often ignored the needs of victims and in doing so we have only
compounded the original offence. Rather than being instruments of healing we
have sometimes been instruments of further pain and anguish.
The needs of Victims must be paramount in a justice system. This does not mean
that justice must be vengeful of merciless. Rather it is the opposite. Healing
of the damage done to the victim, must become as important as prosecuting the
criminal. Great advances are being made in this area. Canada in particular has
an impressive victim-offender mediation program, and even here in Ireland we
have a pilot program in Dublin. It is the prayer of all of us here, not just
that there be no more victims of crime, but that those already injured by crime
may fine healing and dignity and respect, and that their lives may become the
lives that Jesus wished for them.
I am conscious too of the other casualties of
imprisonment, the prisoner’s families.
In particular I think of the mothers of prisoners, the unsung heroes who
suffer with their children. I pray that Our Lady, Mother of Jesus will comfort
them in their time of distress. I ask God’s blessing on you all as you gather
for your important International Conference. I hope you are revitalised during
your time in Ireland and I look forward to receiving your Conference Resolution.