Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration:

A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice

by Sr Suzanne Jabro




Every person has a room with a view of the world. For twenty-nine years, my vantage point has been from prisons in the United States.Prisons mirror society.The lives of prisoners reflect all the unmet social needs of a culture. Globally, the prison industrial complex  is used as the solution to social problems at enormous human and financial cost. No matter the name of the country, behind prison walls live the walking wounded;  the mentally and physically ill; the illiterate and undereducated;  the undocumented, addicted, homeless and poor. The suffering found ‘inside’ prison walls  is a reflection of the suffering in a society.

  In the US alone, there has been a

ü     600% increase in the number of women in prison in the last decade.

ü      2.5 million children have a parent in prison.

ü     Our youth in detention and foster care tell stories of violence and trauma from abuse.

ü     The state of California alone has 608 men and 14 women on death row awaiting execution.

Among Western democracies, the United States stands alone in its use of the death penalty.

ü      As recent as last week, the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics published a sobering reality. 1 out of every 37 Americans has been incarcerated at some time in State or Federal prison. Punishment is an American obsession.

ü     Since the attack on the US World Trade Center and Pentagon,  all significant advocacy on behalf of immigrants has halted. Men, women and children seeking asylum in the US languish in immigration holding facilities meant for days in detention, not years. The suffering of incarcerated immigrants and their families is unimaginable.

  For 20 years, US prison chaplains and social justice advocates requested,   nudged,   begged,  then pressed the US Bishops to write a pastoral on Crime and Criminal Justice.

Finally, in 2000, The US Bishops pastoral letter was published entitled: “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.

 Because of the U.S. global influence, this document is of considerable interest in countries beyond American shores.   Because we are Catholic Prison Chaplains, representing 55 Countries, it is imperative this document is recognized for its strengths and weaknesses.

  The pastoral has been widely praised in many important American circles and newspapers and it has many fine features. These features include:

ü    Its unequivocal condemnation of

o        the death penalty,

o       supermax prisons

o       overuse of solitary confinement

o        and mandatory sentencing laws.

ü    It also promotes respect for every person engaged in criminal justice processes, including offenders and victims.

ü    It highlights the plight of more than 20,000 undocumented immigrants incarcerated in prison awaiting due process.

ü    It reiterates the need for a clear distinction between juvenile offenders and adults.


ü    As Pastors, the Bishops oppose limitations on

Religious freedom and roadblocks that inhibit

Ministry to prisoners and families.

ü    The pastoral letter promotes many positive alternatives to imprisonment including drug programs, restorative justice programs and victim-offender mediation.


It gives a nudge of disapproval to the right to carry handguns and to the issue of prisons for profit.

ü    The pastoral suggests many useful action steps for parish faith-communities, diocesan leaders and public policy effort.


The document has also been criticized.

ü  Overall, some say, it lacks the sharp edge that would have moved it  from being a good document to being a great one.

ü   Pastoral it may be; prophetic it is not.


Father Jim Consedine summarizes the sentiment of many US prison chaplains, when he states,

“The bishops have missed a tremendous opportunity to condemn, unequivocally, the use of imprisonment as a weapon against the poor and  the obsession of the American culture  with the failed philosophy of punishment.  All the facts and figures are in the document to prove the point. But the Bishops have failed to make the connections and    to recognize the sinfulness of this structured injustice.”

  In Contrast, the delegates of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care  representing 55 countries,  in Mexico, in 1999  made the connection the US Bishops missed and/or avoided.

  Listen to the Commission’s 1st of 14 declarations:

“Facing the real challenge of violence and delinquency, we recognize the need to react by different means, including imprisonment, as a last resort. We stress, however that prisons are a “structure of sin” and, in some countries, part of big industrial complexes, where the interests of those industries are put before the real needs of society, thus adding to the poverty of those most at risk of imprisonment: the homeless, the mentally ill, minorities and people of color, the vulnerable scapegoats.”

  My brothers and sisters, this is a prophetic statement!” The connection was made. The evil was named.

  As international Catholic prison chaplains committed to Restorative Justice principles, we must ask ourselves:

What is standing in the way of our being a prophetic voice together, embracing our collective power for mission?

What is standing in the way of our international Commission addressing the pastoral needs of prison chaplains, for assistance in networking and organizing Catholic prison chaplains throughout the world and calling for financial support for meetings, communication and networking?

  We must ponder: Have we been seduced and domesticated by the culture and believe there is no value in collective counter-cultural witness?


  Is it proximity? Are we so marginalized with our people that we are powerless too? Have we lost our prophetic edge and passion?Is it a spiritual crisis, a wounded condition of the soul creating resistance to doing one more thing?

  It isn’t by chance that the poor are getting poorer and the prisons are expanding. The world is ever so slowly promoting values that are counter to the Gospel.  We live in this world and absorb its values as a daily diet.


Transition statement

The Bishops pastoral faces the magnitude and complexity of the causes and problems of crime and the criminal justice system. They recognize:

ecclesial and societal conflicting values,

the “them and us” mentality: 

keepers and the kept,

rich and poor,

disserving and undeserving.

The Bishops pastoral is an initial attempt to raise some critical concerns regarding the criminal justice system and to invite people of good will ( administrators, judges, lawyers, officers, chaplains, volunteers, parole agents, victims and offenders) to join the dialogue and participate in the mission of restoration, rehabilitation, and reconciliation

as a Gospel perspective and strategy, for healing a person, society and world standing in need. 


Let us look together at the pastoral in terms of four dimensions of our faith tradition.

v      Counter-cultural Gospel Roots

v      The Church’s Mission

v      Prophetic Witness

v      A Revolutionary Spirituality


  The Counter-cultural stance of the Gospel calls us to be inclusive.    

   Commendation and Criticism of the Bishop’s statement aside, all those who read the pastoral recognize its genius.

 Victims of Violence and Murder Victim Family Members are the foci of concern.Victims are central to every issue, suggestion and action step to be taken by the Church and criminal justice system. Victims are at the table; they no longer are among the disappeared.

  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  Isn’t this the wisdom of the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission co-chaired by Bishop Tutu?  Serious about healing and restoring victims and communities and ending violence after Apartheid,  the focus was placed on victims. Victims were invited to the table. The Commission brought victims to the table to share their pain and to hear their needs for healing. The Commission asked the restorative justice questions:

Who is hurt and what do you need? One family asked for the missing hand of their father so that it could be buried with dignity. Others wanted to know what happened to their family member. They needed to know.  Telling their story in community was a necessary step in their healing process.

  We are a long way from affecting a new paradigm of restorative justice. But we are on the road when victims of violent crime and Murder Victim Family Members are at every table where crime and criminal justice is being addressed. As Catholic Prison Chaplains

  Do we know who the victims are in our own communties? Do we know what they need for healing? Who is attending to those needs? Do we invite victims to the table? Do we empower them as leaders in the movement toward their healing?


The Bishops pastoral highlights several “next steps” that have proved to be effective and  have been embraced by prison chaplains, volunteers and the conference of Bishops in the US.  There are three that deserve to be highlighted.

   Every dioceses has been encouraged to provide  Victim Ministry. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, CA has secured funding for this diocesan position. The Victim Ministry Director is a Murder Victim Family member. One who understands the difficult and necessary survivor journey through loss and grief. One who realizes how important it is for victims to feel the support of their church. This victim-director is sensitive to survivor’s resistance to being told to forgive, to reconcile before they are ready to do so.

  The Director of Victim Ministry  meets with pastors to surface parishioner’s names  and invites them to a gathering with other victims and families. Networking with Victim organizations, serving on national committees building relationships toward furthering this ministry is an advocacy component of the ministry.

  The presence of the Victim Ministry Director at staff meetings with the Prison Chaplains has proved to be critical in discernment of a Vision of Restorative Justice that is inclusive.

  In California another ‘next step’, in response to the pastoral, is the annual ritual for Murder Victim Family members and victims of violent crimes. They are coordinated by the Catholic Conference of Bishops and this year will be held on Nov. 1 and 2nd.


Some Diocesan events are Catholic faith-centered; others are ecumenical.  Some are held in church; others in prison. The purpose of the Day of Remembrance is healing, recognition of lives lost by violence,

 remembrance of the dead,  communion with victims and their families in community.

  Bishop Gabino Zavala, California Catholic Conference of Bishops liaison for prison ministry and the United States Episcopal Advisor for the American Catholic Correctional Chaplain Association, was the celebrant of the first event for Victims in California. 400 people attended. All Catholic prison chaplains and several television stations were present. This event was held at a local Catholic parish.

  Each family was invited to bring a picture of their loved one. As the victims names were read in the opening ritual, one member from each family brought their loved one’s photo to the altar, lit a small candle from the paschal candle and placed it beside the photo. To see elderly parents, spouses, and small children carrying large portraits and small wallet size photos to a place of honor was so moving.

Seeing the magnitude of death and suffering mirrored back to all of us from a sanctuary filled with faces and light stirred sacred silence.

  The power of the service was experienced in community; all felt the grief and shared the burden of pain

our brothers and sisters carry.

  The survivors of violence arrived heavy with grief; they left lighter. The load was lifted by others. The pain expressed and released was important.  The transformative power of love  was tangible in community that night.

  This annual event for Murder Victims family members is meeting one of many unmeet needs of victims of crime. Victim Ministry is spreading across the country in the US. Faith-communities who are serious about restorative justice are including victim ministry in their parish. Chaplains embracing restorative justice are creatively finding ways to include victims in their pastoral Chaplaincy programs.

  The third ‘next step’ is taken by prison chaplains. In California, prison chaplains no longer give talks about prison ministry. Well, we no longer do it alone.  When asked to present at a parish, school, organization, we form a panel.  Our role is to introduce the panel and set the tone. There are four persons on a panel.

a Murder Victim Family Member,

 a formerly incarcerated person,

a parent of a prisoner and

a child with a parent in prison.

 They tell their stories of pain and their journey of hope. They reflect to all those gathered that we all want healing.

That violence affects many people in a family. That pain has many faces. That there really is no ‘them and us’. There is ‘just us’!

                The power is in seeing a murder victim family member and a formerly incarcerated offender   stand side by side, acknowledge sorrow, pain,  repentance and forgiveness and then  hug one another.

  The power is in hearing a parent express shame and loss of the dream they had for their child, whom they love, and lost to prison. The power is in receiving the tears of the child of an incarcerated parent, a hidden victim of crime, asking adults to help them,  to attend to their need.

  They speak on behalf of all the children of the incarcerated who often lie to their peers about where their mother or father is. They tell of their feeling abandoned and  how that emotion escalates in their teenage years.  The child shares her/his need to see and to talk with their parents and the pain suffered from an inability to get to the prisons to see them. They ask the faith community to help them.

  Prison chaplains empower those affected  Victims, offenders, parents and children…. to speak their truth and share their stories.

These are real people; stereotypes are erased when distance is dissolved. It is counter-cultural to allow those on the margins to speak for themselves. We no longer speak for them.

These are three ‘next steps’ we have taken on the road of restoration of our community. This is counter to our culture that wants to divide and separate people into camps, feed the anger between people, and build pyramids of power-a few on top and many on the bottom. We, set an inclusive table where all are welcome.

These ‘Three next steps’ have proved to be doable for chaplains and volunteers. What has been experienced is real change in the hearts of people who no longer can speak as if the solutions are simple,

 prisoners are monsters,  and victims, children and families do not exist.

This is roundtable ministry where there is no preferential seating. And victims are now at the table. This is the heart and sole of restorative justice and it must be the heart and soul of prison chaplaincy if it claims to be about restorative justice.


The second founding initiative of our tradition is the preferential love of the poor and marginalized.


The Church’s Mission is central in the pastoral statement. The Bishops ground the pastoral in Jesus’ mission. “His mission began with proclaiming good news to the poor and release to captives.”

  A preferential love for the poor and vulnerable  is a principle of Catholic Social teaching which recognizes that every public policy must be assessed by how it will affect the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.  Jesus’ life witnessed a radical alternative way of being and living in his culture. He crossed-over, broke down barriers and  claimed that each person and all people matter. He proclaimed by his life that unity and reconciliation are the way to peace and healing and restoration.

The Gospel tells us where Jesus is found.  Jesus dwells in solidarity with suffering people.

Our vocation is to stand with any person, on any cross, without distinction having no concern as to whether the person deserves to be healed.

  This is the significance and meaning of our Church’s Mission of active and inclusive love. The community of Jesus stands at the foot of many crosses.

  We know it matters where we stand while reading the Gospel. We know it matters with whom we are standing. We know it really matters that we meet the one the poor know and that we see the world from their side and learn from them; we know if we do not, we will not see what Jesus saw. We will not grasp the radical Gospel message. We will not be able to sustain works for justice necessary for transforming systems because we will not have the face of the poor one with us inspiring us, giving us strength and courage not to tire in our effort, because their life depends on it. Our worldview concerning the poor dear neighbor depends on neighboring them.


The Bishop’s pastoral recommends many actions we might take as a community concerned with restorative justice. These action challenge us  to find ways to crossover and bring our people with us,

to dissolve social distance that breeds non-responsibility.

  The pastoral urges ongoing insertion process, experience, reflection, action, listening to and learning from those on the margins?   Those farthest from the seats of power will challenge presuppositions.

 Engaging issues with them will vitalize communion and community, conversion and transformation.

This is the best place to be situated to discern mission.  It is all about nearness, one of the fundamental themes in Scripture. Communion with the poor holds transformative power. Accompanying them changes lives, world views expand and conversion is abundant in seeing, hearing and believing in the God they know. Passion follows, it does not lead.

  The mission of unity and reconciliation and our vocation as prison chaplains situates us uniquely. It places us in the middle of a growing chasm between the rich and the poor. In this place we use our imagination and creativity to help others cross over, to connect people and close the chasm

ü    We help the rich dissolve the fear of pain and unknown territory and their resistance to the burden of knowing. We help them let down their guard and open their hearts.

ü    We help the poor discover their grief, provide support and help them find their voice, their life.

ü    We give strength and courage to all, accompanying all to the slums, prisons, inner cities, the board rooms, city hall and the capitol.


We give our lives to unite and reconcile people. This is who we are call to be personally, pastorally, publicly and prophetically.

Diocesan delegations deserve acknowledgement as one successful  way of crossing-over.  In California, in response to a suggestion in the pastoral, the Bishops convened Catholic and interfaith leaders

to participate in delegation visits to local prisons.

  The purpose is to meet with prisoners, to listen and learn from them how the Church might be more effective in their pastoral care. The purpose is to accompany local pastors, parish leaders, into

“the world within a world”, the prison in their local area.

  The California Catholic Conference of Bishops built a relationship with the department of correction leadership. They advocated for visits and the criminal justice director approved them and notified all Wardens to open their facilities to Catholic Pastoral Delegations.

  Naturally, the prison officials wanted to take delegates on tours of the institution. This is understandable since this is what most outside groups want to do.  But, the Bishop leading the delegation, took the time to be explicit with the administrators. The delegates were NOT interested in touring the facility.

 This is NOT how they wanted to use the time.

  The system administrators are not our enemies. They recognize and respect the pastoral role  to provide what is core to pastoral care: A VISIT. 

  Truly, the delegation visit with prisoners, women, youth or men, on death rows, in solitary confinement units or prison hospitals, have been successful.

  Delegates usually underestimate the welcome and trust the prisoners placed in them as representative of CHURCH.

  Prisoners always reflect amazement that “Church officials” have actually shown up to listen to what they have to say.  Always, prisoners share feelings of hope and thankfulness, that the Church, people with power and authority,  care enough about them, to come and spend the day with them.  Prisoners are given voice, a name, dignity and compassion. They are the teachers, delegates are the learners. Delegates are  given a worldview not seen until they crossed-over and view the world from the side of the prisoner. Delegates heard of pastoral failures and received prisoners instructions as to what faith communities might do to be more effective.

  Delegates also learned about the failures of the system and these were always shared with the administrators at a closing session.  Many, many changes have been effected as a result of the delegations.

§         Personal attitudes of church leaders are among the most important of these.

§         Relationships with prisoners and administrators have proved to be critical.

§         Advocacy for institution policy change has been implemented and these have changed the plight of the prisoners. 

§         And to think, it all happens in one pastoral visit.


At one prison, the delegates learned from the women there, that they never got to see their children. This prison complex, detains 8,000 women and is located hundreds of miles from most major cities. It is the largest prison complex for women prisoners in the world.

In response to their cries, the nuns on the delegation, initiated the Get On The Bus Program, a Mother’s Day free transportation program for children and their guardians. All expenses are paid through donations from generous volunteers. The first year there was one bus from one city. Today, there are 10 buses from 10 cities. The scripture passage that reflects the wisdom of pastoral planning is “Follow the tracks of the flock (listen to the people) and they will lead you to the shepherds field ( Let you know what needs to be done).” Its true! It is really true.

  The Jesuit provincial, at the invitation of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, invited his brother Jesuits to be delegates to the famous San Quentin Prison in San Francisco, the home of death row for men. Two university presidents, the president of the Theological Union at Berkeley, several other Jesuit pastors and the social justice provincial for the Jesuits attended. They went cell to cell on death row and then, into the death chamber. When the killing distance does not exist and  you are standing in the room where scores of men and women have been killed by the state,  you are faced with the horror of what we are doing as a state government and people.

  Following this delegation, the Jesuits and Sisters of St. Joseph became publicly and politically involved in the Governors NO PAROLE POLICY FOR LIFERS.

  One delegation went to the famous Pelican Bay Prison housing 6000 men in general population and 1200 in solitary confinement for up to 6 years before a review. Several months after this delegation, we heard the 900 prisoners were planning to go on a hunger strike. One day we received a call asking if Bishop Zavala and I would come up and meet with the leaders of the strike. We obtain clearance for the visit and flew there. I will never forget the first young man coming into the room shackled hands and feet. I took his hand in mine and he jumped back. Then, he took my hands, apologized and explained he had not been touched in 3 years. We returned to LA, Bishop Zavala and the Senator in charge of prisons had a conference call, the Senator faxed the prisoners via administrators explaining he would convene a hearing of the situation and their concerns. The prisoners went off the hunger strike.

  Crossing-over is a Jesus strategy. We are doing it here at

this conference,

§          broadening our perspective,

§           building relationships,

§          expanding our vision of ministry and

§          being inspired by the Spirit who is alive within and among us,

§          Acting on behalf of greater peace and justice.



The third dimension of our tradition is prophetic witness. The prophetic dimension of the Gospel is clear and yet difficult to embrace. It does evolve; people live their way into a prophetic stance.

  The US Bishops hoped the pastoral would open windows for dialogue.They consulted many experts in the field of criminal and Restorative Justice. All agreed on one thing: The status quo is not working. The system is broken. New alternatives are needed.

  They were writing a pastoral that would be acceptable to all concerned people wanting the common good. The Bishops felt the community of the faithful needed to hear other views and to step into difficult and challenging questions and actions for learning and discerning. They are encouraging each of us to “take the next step”, whatever that next step is for us.

  The Cardinal and Bishops of California are very involved in prison ministry. They each go into a prison several times a year. Prisons and juvenile detention facilities are where they celebrate Christmas and Easter liturgy. Each of them went to 1-4 prisons on the Day of the Jubilee in the Prisons of the World.

  They embrace the jubilee vision of a justice system where victims are made whole, offenders take responsibility for their actions and  the larger society rejects revenge as a social policy.

  The Pastoral and the Jubilee spurred conversation among prison ministers, diocesan leaders and

 the California Catholic Conference of Bishops. It was decided, by courageous men and women,

to take the Bishops’ call for dialogue a step further. They planned a statewide Symposium

on Crime, Punishment and the Common Good in California based on the pastoral.

  This was not a conference for the usual suspects. It was not a gathering solely for the department of correction administrators and staff.  Nor was it a gathering of those directly affected by the system: Formerly incarcerated, victims, their families, prison chaplain and volunteers. It was not a convocation for those directly concerned with crime on the streets or the in the courts, such as, police officers, judges and lawyers. No, it was a symposium for All of those mentioned above and more.

  2000 people attended the Symposium at Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles, on March 15th. They came in cars and on chartered buses. Some flew across the country to be there. All were participating in an event, set for a community of men, women and youth  concerned about our shared future in community.  Each participant was willing to invest time, energy and talent in being, sharing and learning together.

  The opening ritual was particularly moving as youth from a local detention center blessed Church and civic leaders:  Cardinal Mahony and the sheriff of Los Angeles, a warden, a police officer, a lawyer and a parole agent. To see the ‘important dignitaries’ being blessed by young incarcerated gang members from a detention center was humbling.

  Six victims of violence and murder victim family members shared their journey and choice for reconciliation rather than revenge. One man told of the night his young son was murdered. The next man to speak was the grandfather of the young man who killed him. When they finished sharing, there was not a dry eye in the arena.

  The opening ritual set the tone for a day of dialogue and building relationships between people who for the most part had never shared space.

  The richness of diversity was prevalent. It was ecumenical and racially diverse. It had two language tracks…English and  Spanish.  The youth had their own forum.  The unity of purpose was prevalent as well.  We all want greater peace and justice and we know we must find our way together. We believe the answers are within us and among us.

  No one will be able to adequately measure the effects of the Symposium. However the energy and passion of the crowd is an indicator that something tangible and fruitful is stirring.

  The Symposium is the beginning of something new. Strangers once deemed enemies became neighbors.All participants had the opportunity to experience to the height and breath of the criminal justice system, and the scope of the people involved in it. Everyone was privileged to pull over to the vista point and see the big picture.

  There are four programs highlighted at the Symposium that are worthy of mention.

1)         Criminals and Gangs Anonymous. A 12 step program of juvenile and adult. It was founded by a gang member who believes gang members are actually triple addicted: to the gang, criminal thinking and to one or two substances. This program is faciliatated in prison and in the community by former gang members.

2)         Centering Prayer and guided meditations: Two forms of prayer that are spreading like a wild-fire. These are also function in prison and in the community.

3)         Drug Courts: an alternative to prison.

4)         Puppies in Prison: Dogs are brought into the prison to live with and be trained by female prisoners. Special trainers help the women tend to the dogs and prepare them to help the elderly and blind. The dogs are transforming the lives of the women and the prison.

5)         One Prisoner One Parish. This is one model of many springing up across the country. All the programs seem intent on forming a team of mentors/support circle for the prisoner transitioning back to society. He/she will have people who are in their corner, are willing to assist them when the transition gets difficult, and people to call in an emergency.

  The US Bishops are calling for dialogue. In this room are 125 prison chaplains from 55 countries. We are not novices. This is a ripe group for serious conversation.

  Believing what we know,preaching what we believe and living what we preach brings us to the prophetic dimension of dialogue concerning the Gospel mission we share.

Are we willing to use our collective power for mission: To be intentional about dialogue with our Bishops, pastoral leaders and friend in the Vatican, the Pontifical Council, to call for greater support and commitment for prison ministry and ministers, to be intentional when we gather to bear witness, stand together, promoting justice in various regions of the world who cry out for our intervention?

  We have to ask ourselves, first if we are willing

                To be the stranger in our own land

To stand where we do not fit,

                To be committed to say what is not welcome,

                To speak a prophetic voice despite the real possibility of exile.


The proverb that comes to mind is: Those who risk nothing, risk much more. Isn’t it true that we never live so fully as when we are gambling with our lives so that others may have life?

  We are a small and diverse group gathered here. Let us not take smallness lightly. It was a small group who followed Jesus as disciples. It was a small group at the foot of the cross who bore the message.

  Is it time for us to become A NEW PEOPLE, carrying the charism of restoration and living the Gospel in radical new ways? Is it time to move out of our comfort zones into Christian commitment? Out of the upper room and back to the foot of the Cross, knowing that we will not thrive until we go there together.

  Prophetic calling is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Maybe the Spirit is calling each of us and all of us.

And maybe, just maybe, the voice we are waiting for  is our own.

We have the Gospel

We have the people

We have the network

The question is: Do we have the will to take  The ‘next step’ toward becoming a prophetic commission,

 to take the ‘next step’ toward becoming a commission of Catholic chaplains with a passion

for restorative justice?


There is one dimension of our faith tradition noticeably absent from the pastoral; it must be highlighted in this assembly. That dimension is the power of the dream in the revolutionary spirituality of our tradition.

  Yes, everyone has a room with a view of the criminal justice system. Prison Chaplains have a unique vantage point. We know it is going to take a lot more than dialogue to effect transformation of the criminal justice system and conversion of peoples attitudes. We know this because we are up close and personal to the criminal justice system. In our countries, we are the voice, change agent, initiator and church leader with others of the paradigm shift toward Restorative Justice.    We do this as we attend to the life and death issues of our people every day. This is not easy!

  We look to good men and women who work tirelessly for peace and justice, always trying to learn how they are able to sustain energy, to stay the course, to maintain integrity and not lose passion and hope in the struggle for justice.

  We know from the life of Jesus and all prophetic men and women throughout the world and history how they grounded themselves. They embraced a revolutionary spirituality and  passed it on to others.

 The common wellspring, is a contemplative life stance issuing in compassion.

  They draw courage and wisdom from withdrawing from the hectic pace and crowds.

They create sacred time and space for listening  to the Spirit present, active, alive  with imagination and creativity.

They understand compassion as a radical announcement that the hurt is to be taken seriously.

  A contemplative life stance issuing in compassion is the way of life and love  for the minister who is called to be in solidarity with the marginalized and who is called to bear witness to injustice and to evil.

  We know contemplation and ministry on the margins dislodges.  It moves from heart, to head, to feet and its reverse order. Contemplation and accompanying the poor relocates.  Right relationship is embedded in the spirituality of contemplation and action. It is the spirituality grounding the Mission of Jesus.

  Jesus did enormous good during his public ministry, healing, teaching, feeding, building community..  But the crowning event of his life was the crucifixion.

  It is not the performance of good that distinguishes the followers of Jesus.  It is the struggle against evil. We know how easy it is to be swept away by the magnitude of the issues  and the struggles we face in a global culture  embracing values counter to the Gospel.

  We know the cycle of destruction from accompanying the suffering poor and marginalized. When a person lives too long with oppression and isolation,  they experience an intense pain and exhaustion. After a while, the pain turns to despair.  In time, the despair turns to a violence expressed toward self or others.

  We minister in prisons and jails that breed the evil of isolation and injustice. It is dangerous. These evils can shut down a person’s affect, instill anger and resentment in one’s being,  and it can cause one to become hopeless in the struggle for true justice.

  We have watched colleagues succumb to effects of this evil.  Maybe we have embodied the symptoms.  It is very frightening.

  The most common effects of these evils on good people are indifference to human need or injustice

 avoidance of people and critical issues, resignation to it all.  Nothing can be done!

These are dangerous sentiments for prison chaplains.

  When a prison chaplain embodies these sentiments  they are incapable of seeing the light, beauty and love in the world. and being light, beauty and love in the world.

  Grounding ourselves in the founding grace of our tradition: a revolutionary spirituality of contemplation and compassion is necessary for anyone who is serious about accompanying the marginalized poor, confronting injustices and bearing witness.

  We have to ask: Are we creating sacred, silent space for listening to the Spirit present, active, alive with new lessons to learn?  Are we attending to the heart and soul of our being? Are we embodying the Great Love of God?

  Or have we been seduced by a culture that just loves meetings and information when we hunger for Spirit inspiration, imagination and vision? Have we been seduced by a culture that loves fast food and fast lane living When we are starved for ‘real food’…the beauty of creation; silence for reflective being and passion for life and love, justice and peace?

  We look to lovers to teach us the way.

Lovers can be together in silence.  Being loved, they look out at the world and see love. They are spontaneous and free to be who they are because they know they are loved, just they are.

We recognize lovers.  There is energy, a passion, a presence in their presence.  They go out from there and return to that space. When Love is birthed in a person, people know it. When Love is birthed in a community, the power of love is released for all to see.  Everyone is drawn into the power of love living

in a welcoming community where something mysteriously tangible is evident for all to connect with.

The dream is within us and among us, it is why we do what we do and why we have gathered here…the power of the dream is love.

It seems appropriate to end with Jesuit Pedro Arrupe’s reflection on Love. Pedro was the Superior General of the Society of Jesus

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love  In a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with, What seizes your imagination Will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed In the morning, What you do with your evenings, How you spend your weekends, What you read, who you know, What breaks your heart, And what amazes you with

Joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love And it will decide everything.

Let us ask for the grace to be loved into becoming the dream. Let us remember the promise of the covenant in the book of Jeremiah

“Deep within you, I will plant my love. Write it on your hearts. Then, I will be your God and you will be my people.”