As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Catholic prison ministry directors throughout Ohio sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine, state prison officials and chaplains saying that the officials remain in their prayers and recommitting to finding ways to safely pursue their spiritual ministry to inmates and their families.
Sister Rita Mary Harwood, SND, who leads the Secretariat for Parish Life and Development in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, is among those who signed the letter. Her office coordinates prison ministry in the eight-county diocese.
Through the Catholic Conference of Ohio, the prison ministry directors expressed in the letter their appreciation for the public service and ongoing support offered by the statewide corrections officials. They also shared the foundations of Catholic ministry, noting that Catholic teachings foster respect for life and the law, forgiveness and mercy.
“Our beliefs about the sanctity of human life and dignity are at the center of our approach to prison ministry,” they wrote. They also advocate for restorative justice that seeks rehabilitation and supportive re-entry into society.
In the letter, the ministry directors reemphasized the essential elements of Catholic ministry: providing Mass, allowing the reception of holy Communion and offering the sacrament of reconciliation. They also reiterated a commitment to ensuring that protocols are followed to ensure the safety of both the sacramental ministers and communicants and working with prison officials to enhance protocols as needed.
Catholic prison ministry also includes bible study, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – also known as RCIA – prayer services, spiritual counsel and retreats, pen pal programs, family outreach and re-entry programs.
They said face-to-face ministry is important for spiritual growth, rehabilitation and building relationships, but they understand the importance of ensuring the safety of all and are looking forward to resuming these gatherings as soon as possible.
In addition, they said distribution of religious items such as holy cards, prayer cards and rosaries are important to Catholics and they expressed appreciation for the chaplains who help share these items.
The health crisis prompted greater development of technology and electronic resources, including in the prison system, but it also exposed weaknesses in the technology. For example, prison ministers learned that some of the DVDs sent to jails and prisons in order to offer Mass and other spiritual guidance were not compatible with some computer systems. Although video streaming capabilities and access to computer tablets varies among the facilities, the ministers said they’re willing to collaborate on ways to better access and use the links to spiritual and religious resources as well as video conferencing – while finding a way to ensure appropriate supervision.
They also noted the importance of helping families stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones during this time of increased isolation caused by the pandemic.
And finally, prison ministers said they promote re-entry programs with sponsorships and collaboration with community partners. Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul also assist with education, employment, housing and support services. Also, they welcome additional funding sources and policy changes that will help expand these services, they added.
“We pray for God’s wisdom and courage, that each of you might continue to exercise your offices and responsibilities with great care and respect,” they said.
Click here to read the complete letter.
The Catholic Conference of Ohio is the official representative of the Catholic Church in public matters affecting the Church and general welfare of the citizens of Ohio.