Thursday, April 7, 2016

Seven baptised at Mass in prison

The Herald, Apr 04, 2016

While Catholics around the world were preparing to celebrate Easter, priests celebrated Mass in Kajang prison on March 10.

By Herbert John Gomez

While Catholics around the world were preparing to celebrate Easter, priests celebrated Mass in Kajang prison 
on March 10, with a tagline for their homily for the prison inmates, Jesus loves you in spite of your 
incarceration in prison and forgives you for your wrong doings as the Father is Merciful. 

Every year, the prison authorities grant permission for two Masses to be celebrated for the prisoners, one for Christmas (which is celebrated in the season of Advent) and another for Easter (which is celebrated during Lent). Collaboration with the prison authorities has been good and this is the fourth year the Catholic Prison Ministry has been organizing Mass in Kajang prison. 

This message of the priests moved many of the prison inmates to pray for repentance and for God’s mercy, for a conversion to renew their lives. Mass was celebrated at five different blocks in the prison. They included the men’s prison, men’s death row cell blocks and Drug Rehabilitation Centre while the ladies’ prison was specially prepared for Mass and the baptism ceremony. 

In the women’s prison, seven foreign nationals from Thailand, China, India and Morocco agreed to accept Jesus as their Saviour and for a conversion to renew their lives. They have been attending the Sunday pastoral care programmes and counselling sessions conducted by the Prison Ministry volunteers for the past few months to learn about Jesus through the sharing and interaction with the inmates. 

Prison Ministry spiritual chaplain, Fr Surain Durai Raj, celebrated Mass and the Sacrament of Baptism together with Fr Philip Chua who chose beautiful names for the newly baptized inmates, who accepted the names of Mary, Josephine, Catherine, Theresa, Agnes, Catherina and Margaret. 

The biggest challenge for the Ministry in getting inmates prepared for baptism in prison is the time constraint and the difficulties in making early preparations. A brief baptism course was conducted by both priests in the English, Chinese and Tamil languages before the ceremony. 

Their consent to embrace the Catholic faith and to receive baptism was formally carried out with a letter of consent from the individual inmates. 

The baptism ceremony was followed by the Sacrament of Confirmation and the celebration of the Eucharist where the baptised received Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. The priests prayed for them and advised them to stay focused on Jesus and to draw strength from Him to move on. 

One of the baptized inmates expressed quietly, “My acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Saviour will mark an important step in my life.” 

It is a milestone for the Catholic Prison Ministry to note that on this occasion, a record number of seven persons were baptized. 

The Ministry volunteers will keep them in prayer and help them with their RCIA sessions and to make progress on their spiritual paths. 

In the meantime, Masses were also celebrated in the other blocks and cells. In the Death Row block, Fr Simon Labrooy commenced Mass with greetings from Archbishop Julian Leow. Many of the inmates still remembered when His Grace celebrated the Eucharist at Christmas. “You are not alone, for Jesus loves each one of you. We will pray for your wellbeing as you pray for your families back home,” he added. 

After Mass, the inmates exchanged the sign of peace with a warm hug to demonstrate their Christian love for one another with praises of Alleluia to the Lord. 

Speaking to 63 prison inmates at the Main Block, Fr Albet Ariokiasamy encouraged them to use their time in prison to get their lives back on track and to rehabilitate themselves spiritually. “Do not feel discouraged by the challenges faced while in prison, as some of the saints and apostles were also imprisoned for doing the right thing and preaching the Word of God,” he added. 

Prison inmates in the main Death Row Cell experienced a sense of hope and promise of a new life in Christ when Fr Edwin Peter spoke to them of Jesus who is always forgiving. “He loves each one of us to the point that He gave his life for us.” 

Fr Gregory Chan, too, shared with the inmates on Jesus’ love for sinners and how He cared for them when he celebrated the Eucharist at the Rawatan Permulihan Dadah (Drug Rehabilitation Centre) section. Mass is celebrated during the Easter and Christmas seasons in seven other prisons in Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. Priests also visit the inmates monthly to hear confessions and for pastoral care duties. 

Currently, 25 priests and 182 volunteers (ladies and men) from the Catholic Prison Ministry Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese visit the prisons weekly for pastoral care programmess and spiritual counselling .

The Ministry has extended its services to the inmates in the prisons in the northern and southern states of Penang and Melaka/ Johore Diocese through their respective Prison Ministries.

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