Roman Catholic Prison Ministry to promote Yellow Ribbon Project at parishes

SINGAPORE – Every year, more than 11,000 inmates of Singapore prisons and drug rehabilitation centres are released after completing their sentence. But ex-offenders have to live with the stigma of having served time behind bars, said the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE), “one that can often be more punishing that the prison sentence itself”. This social prison is one with “invisible bars, of suspicion, of mistrust and of discrimination”.

This concern led to the launch of the Yellow Ribbon Project in 2004 by Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network, a group of public and non-government agencies involved in re-entry management.

Since 2004, the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM) has also been actively promoting the Yellow Ribbon Project at parishes in the Singapore archdiocese. The ministry sells ribbons handmade by inmates as a symbol of their hope for forgiveness and acceptance, and to raise money for the Yellow Ribbon Fund.

The fund, whose patron is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng, has disbursed over $1.7 million to develop and implement reintegration programmes for ex-offenders and social support services to strengthen families.

This year, RCPM will be selling these yellow ribbons at parishes during the Aug 29-30 and Sep 5-6 weekend Masses. Novena Church sales will be on Sep 12.

Most parishes will participate except for the few who happen to be celebrating their feastdays or are undergoing renovation or are raising funds for other causes.

RCPM was formally set up in 1977 by Father Brian Doro, the late Jesuit Father Thomas O’Neill and Sister Gerard Fernandez to reach out to those in prisons in keeping with Jesus’ words: “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25:36).

Today there are 17 chaplains, 11 religious and about 187 volunteers engaged in the ministry. Priests serving as chaplains include Fathers Anthony Hutjes, Angel Luciano, David Garcia, Gregoire Van Giang, Timothy Yeo, J. J. Fenelon, Augustine Joseph, Frans De Ridder and Paul Staes. Father Paul Pang is the principal chaplain. Sister Gerard Fernandez, rgs, continues to serve.

Together with volunteers, they have about 30 sessions a week at 13 institutions. Each session lasts for one-and-a-half to two hours. Chaplains celebrate Mass once a month in each of these institutions. Communion service is held for Catholics. So are novena devotions, which are well-attended by both Catholics and non-Catholics.

RCPM’s mission to provide “a ministry of presence, evangelisation and regeneration through chaplains and lay volunteers to bring the word and love of God to prison inmates, ex-offenders and families” is alike the Yellow Ribbon Project’s moniker adapted from the 1973 Tony Orlando and Dawn hit song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” that describes a released prisoner’s desire for forgiveness and acceptance.

RCPM will celebrate Prisons Week on Sunday Sep 20, 10.45am at Blessed Sacrament Church with Archbishop Nicholas Chia, volunteers, ex-inmates and their families. There will also be a commissioning of new volunteers.

September is also the month to wear a yellow ribbon as an active display of support for offering second chances and acceptance for ex-offenders. In the inaugural year, over 320,000 ribbons were distributed island-wide. This year, about 340,000 are expected to be distributed.

Details for other activities planned for this year, including a Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2009 and a Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition “Vision of Hope”, can be found at www.yellowribbon.org.sg

By Joyce Gan
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