The stark reality of being in prison can be a difficult pill to swallow.
Many inmates lose hope and fall into a spiral of depression and regret as they wait for the day where they can have their freedom again.
Turning to God during this period is sometimes all that these inmates can do but many lack the knowledge of how and where to begin because they feel unworthy.
For the past 21 years, Father John Joseph Fenelon has been tirelessly visiting inmates – celebrating the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and offering pastoral counsel to those who seek to return to Christ as well as those yearning to know more about Him.
The Spiritual Director of the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM) said that the mission of the ministry is “to share the love of Jesus with Catholic inmates.
To help them achieve peace while in prison through God’s grace and to affect a true conversion of heart.”
Helping him in this ministry are eight priests and about 70 volunteers who conduct 24 sessions a week in the different clusters in Changi Prison.
Each session is about two hours and volunteers will spend time with inmates breaking open the Word of God, having Bible sharing and conducting basic catechism to share the doctrines of the faith.
“For us as spiritual guides, our whole purpose of being there is in-house spiritual care,” said Fr John Joseph. “It’s not the most glamorous of ministries … but it is very rewarding and edifying.”
We try to help them see how they can grow their prayer life and be more charitable in their thoughts, words and actions.
The other objective of the RCPM is to ensure that the inmates do not return to prison.
Fr John Joseph said that he has heard of occasions where some ex-offenders have not been welcomed back into churches in the Archdiocese and because of such a lack of support and love, many return to their old lifestyles and get incarcerated again.
Because of their difficulty re-integrating into society, Fr John Joseph said “some prefer to be in prison because they have three meals a day and a roof over their heads.”
The laity need to pray for the grace not to be judgemental and to accept them for who they are; these people have paid their dues, he added.
To try and expand their support structure, he said one consideration for the future is to explore the possibility of a halfway house, which allows people with different disabilities or criminal backgrounds to learn the necessary skills to re-integrate into society and better support and care for themselves.
On top of this, RCPM can also write to the parish priest of the church where the inmate was from so that there is awareness of his or her release, and community support can be arranged.
When he reflects on his time journeying with inmates, Fr John Joseph said he is reminded of Matthew 25: 35-36: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
“I hope at the end of my life, if I were to meet Jesus face to face … I will tell Him I visited you in prison and I hope I have a place in your house.”