Mission Report

Rome, 24 february - 3 march 2005


After a meeting of the Executive Board of ICCPPC (25 February – 28 February), the seminar on “Human Rights of Prisoners” took place: 1-2 March 2005. This seminar was jointly organized and prepared by The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care (ICCPPC). It took place at the premises of the Vatican, Palazzo Calisto.

Cardinal Renato Martino, President of Justice and Peace, opened the meeting – underlining the importance of pastoral ministry in prisons. Mr. Christian Kuhn, President of ICCPPC, welcomed the participants on behalf of ICCPPC.

The keynote address, prepared by Mr. Eduardo Vetere, Director at the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programm, was delivered by his deputy Mrs. Jo Dedyne on his behalf (he was not able to attend the meeting personally). The global challenge to preserve human rights of prisoners was emphasized and international efforts to improve their situation were described.

The panel discussion gathered international top experts in this field: Bishop Vives Sicilia from Spain reported on the activities of prison chaplains; Madame Silvia Casale, President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) informed on the activities of the Committee and on regional problems regarding human rights of prisoners; Mr. Jean Paul Laborde, Director of the United Nations Terrorism Prevention Branch, stressed the need to preserve and keep our moral values in fighting crime and terrorism; Baroness Vivien Stern, Secretary of Penal Reform International, gave a description of concrete examples where human rights of prisoners are at risk; Mr. Joseph Etima, Commissioner of Prisons in Uganda, spoke from the perspective of a Director-General of prison administration and stressed the problem of that work in a situation with very limited financial resources.

During the general debate and the working groups in the afternoon, these statements were discussed and prison chaplains contributed from their own experience.

The second day was opened by a keynote speech by Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, President of the Congregation for Clergy. He said, inter alia, that prison chaplains should work in the conviction of the full dignity of every human being, including prisoners, and with no feeling of “superiority”. Conversion is a goal, but “proposed, not imposed”.

Mr. Kuhn gave an overview of the activities of the Commission ICCPPC.

The panel discussion was an opportunity for prison chaplains to report on their work: Sister Van Baalen (USA) referred to the situation in the USA including the problem of capital punishment (recently abolished for juveniles) and the fact that in many prisons the work is mainly done by lay people and religious (with a difficult access of inmates to the sacraments due to a few priests working in that field); Rev. Elie Nasr gave a description of the challenging situation in Lebanon and the ministry of prison pastoral work there; Rev. Andres Fernandez (Colombia) presented a project with a view to assisting families of prisoners; Mr. Diamante (Philippines) made a strong and clear statement against capital punishment; Rev. Dr. Waliggo (Uganda) emphasized the need to involve communities in the ministry and reported on the work in the region; Deacon Echtermeyer (Germany) focused on the European situation and, inter alia, reported on several activities of training for prison chaplains.

After the general debate, Cardinal Martino made his concluding statement – again stressing the need to preserve human dignity and human rights of prisoners.

The seminar ended with a Holy Mass at the Regina Coeli prison and a reception at the Honorable President of the Municipal Council of Rome, Guiseppe Mannino.

There were more than 80 participants at the seminar, among them the leaders of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, many general prison chaplains from more than 20 countries from all five continents; representatives of Vatican authorities (Secretariat of State,...), religious congregations, international human rights experts, representatives of catholic institutions (Caritas Internationalis, San’Egidio...), and the president of the ecumenical International Prison Chaplains Association.

A Papal message was received, issued by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in which “the Holy Father send his cordial greetings to the promoters and participants in this significant meeting.” It was pointed out that “His Holiness wishes that these days of reflection contribute to affirm the due and continuous respect of the human dignity of the individual who has violated the law so that the individual can remain a part of society and engage himself so that he can be re-integrated into society”.

The meeting and its outcome was widely reflected in the local and international mass-media – several times under the headline: “Prisoners have rights, says Cardinal”.

There are several follow-up activities envisaged. The contributions to the meeting, speeches as well as reports from the working-groups, will be published.

ICCPPC, as an observer organization to the United Nations, will report on the meeting at the Eleventh United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, to be held 18-25 April 2005, Bangkok, Thailand. 


Christian Kuhn mp.

President of ICCPPC