“So young you are! Are you in prison ministry? And you are here with a bucket to beg for prisoners! I’ll come in 5 minutes. My house is very close by. Please wait till I come,” said an elderly lady in 2019 from Kammanahalli Parish, Bangalore, on Prison Ministry Sunday.
Prison ministry volunteers go to parishes as a team for Prison Ministry Sunday celebrations. After the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we stand at every door of the Church with buckets in our hands asking for help from parishioners.
Something inspired the lady after seeing sisters and priests standing at the door with buckets; she went back to her house, brought Rs. 2,000 and dropped in a bucket which I was holding, gave me a kiss and said, “God bless you”. This incident remains fresh in my mind even today and it has motivated me to go out of my way many times to beg for our brothers and sisters behind bars, for their families, for their children who are in our rehabilitation centres and men/women released from prison cells and live in our rehabilitation centres.
I was browsing for the meaning of begging in internet and the meaning Google gave me was ‘begging is asking someone earnestly or humbly for something’. To bow down, one needs to have humility.
Saint of the Gutter as Beggar
St Mother Teresa, known as Saint of the Gutter, was once living in a small house in Calcutta along with some orphans. One day it so happened that there was nothing for the children to eat. Mother Teresa did not know what to do. She called all children and said, “Come children, today we have nothing to eat in the house. But, if we pray to God, He will surely give”. After 10 minutes of prayer, Mother Teresa went out. She went to a neighbourhood shop and said to the shopkeeper, “Please give us something to eat”. The shopkeeper looked at her with anger and spit saliva on Mother Teresa’s hand. She gently wiped the saliva with her sari and said, “Thank you for what you have given me. Now, can you give something for my children?”
The shopkeeper was shocked at the humility of Mother Teresa and asked pardon from her. Immediately, he called his workers and send sacks of groceries to Mother Teresa’s children. It did not stop with that day; he continued to help regularly to those orphan children. What fascinated the Mother to go and beg for someone? Mother Teresa begged to give life for the ones who were thrown out in gutters. The Prison Ministry of India volunteers beg for the ones who are thrown behind bars with the title of criminals. They are branded as thieves, murderers, rapists and what not? We beg for these lost brethren of ours to give hope. We stand at the Church doors and beg to tell those behind bars, we are with you! You are not alone! We beg, so that they may have a future.
Begging: Part of Spirituality
“Then Jesus said to them, suppose you have a friend and you go to him at midnight and say, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me and I have no food to offer him” (Luke 11:5-6). This parable is one of my most favourite passage in which Jesus teaches about begging. Begging for whom? Jesus is addressing this passage directly to each of us. Is it for our families that we are going and knocking at someone’s door? No, it’s not for our blood relation. It’s for a friend. A friend who has come to us, trusting that we would provide him/her something.
The disciples of Jesus came to Him and asked Him to teach them to pray. After having taught them the great prayer, “Our Father”, Jesus continues His powerful teaching with the challenging message. Jesus makes this begging part of our spirituality. Jesus not only taught His disciples to stretch out the hands before His Heavenly Father. He also taught His disciples to stretch their hands before human beings to give life for someone. Jesus who taught the disciples to go and knock someone’s door to feed someone continues to teach us to go and beg for someone whom He has placed in our care today. The prisoners are our brothers and sisters for whom we stretch out hands in joy.
Begging to Feed
Joyson (name changed) was jailed with his parents and younger brother in Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, Bangalore. His parents were arrested in a murder case when Joyson was 4 years old and his younger brother 2 years. What crime did Joyson and his brother commit that these little ones had to go through jail experience, having deprived of their childhood? When Joyson was 6 years old, he was shifted to our Kolbe Home, home for prisoners’ children located at Carmelaram, Bangalore after completing the legal procedures. And after two years, Joyson’s brother too got shifted and these children are growing up together with 33 children in our centres. All these 35 children who are under our care are God’s precious gift for our PMI family and we beg at the Church doors to feed these vulnerable ones.
Whenever I give a talk to young religious and priests, the first question that I ask them is to tell me about the core of their vocation or to write down the reason for God’s call to them. I used to notice that on hearing what I said they would be engrossed in deep reflection and thought. “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exod. 3:9-10). God heard the cry of the Israelites that resulted in the call of Moses. Israelites cried out to God and Moses received a vocation. Our brethren behind bars cried out to God and that’s why we have Prison Ministry India.
Begging as Blessing
Our vocation is to wipe out those tears which God saw and heard. How can we remain in our comfortable zones and make them cry continuously? Moses was called and sent on a mission. Remember, we too are called and sent on a mission to the ones whose cry resounded so loud before God. We have no foreign fund. Our only fund is God’s providence and our very life-style is begging. God called us not only to counsel prisoners, but He called to dedicate our lives for the integrated human development of our brothers and sisters behind prison walls whose cry the Lord of the universe heard and called us. We beg, so that they may be liberated! We bend down so that our brethren behind bars may look up. Begging is a blessing! Do you have the call to beg to liberate the chained? Please join us and receive the blessings in abundance.
Prison Ministry Sunday
Prison Ministry Sunday is celebrated every year with a particular theme to create awareness across the country. Through Prison Ministry Sunday we convey the message to our brethren behind bars that they are not alone. On this special day every brother and sister behind bars is remembered in a special way by the Catholic Church and its faithful. Prison Ministry India from its inception works for the integral human development of prisoners who are created in God’s image and likeness as you and I are. No mother gives birth to a child with the intention of making her son/daughter a criminal. Each one of our brethren from the dark cells has a history to tell us. Are we ready to listen to them? Prison Ministry Sunday creates awareness about our brethren and asks the faithful to respond to their cry from the dark cells as Moses responded to the Israelites’ cry by saying yes to God.
Prison Ministry India celebrates Prison Ministry Sunday on August 14, 2022 with the theme of Integral Human Development and Pastoral Care for Prisoners. Pope Francis invites the Mother Church to become mothers and to have the attitude of mothers towards our brothers and sisters behind bars. When Jesus asked His disciples to gather the left-overs, the disciples bent down and gathered the left-overs. The wounded ones behind bars are left out by society. We enter through the prison gates to gather the ones left out. What joy it gives us when these left-outs are given hope and when these scattered ones get back to their lost lives! PMI volunteers offer their time, energy and life to provide a future to those labelled as criminals by society.
While the law looks back to the past with judgement, PMI looks towards the future with mercy. When the law condemns the failed ones, PMI commends them to our Father’s care. When the law puts them down, PMI lifts them up. When the world fights for justice, a few chosen people cry out for restorative justice. When the world brawls for punishment, a few chosen ones beg for forgiveness. When the world wants to kill, a few chosen ones want to save. When the world closes the book of a criminal, a few chosen ones open a new chapter saying no one is beyond redemption. And they are our Prison Ministry India volunteers. Will you join us?
PMI volunteers together with Pope Francis invite every reader of this article to join hands for the vulnerable, rejected, lonely and the lost ones behind bars and to commit our lives in service to them. If you and I don’t respond, who else will? The Lord of the sea and sky calls us! Let our response be, “Here I am Lord. I have heard you calling. I will go Lord and you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart”.
(The writer is former Chief-Editor, Prison Voice)