MUMBAI, India – Catholics in India are planning on marking Prison Ministry Sunday by reminding prisoners that they “are not alone.”
There are over 366,000 people incarcerated in India, which is home to over 1,400 prisons.
August 12, 2018 is celebrated as Prison Ministry Sunday to commemorate the feast of the Patron saint, Maximilian Kolbe. This year, the theme is ‘You are not alone.’
Bishop Allwyn D’Silva, the auxiliary of Archdiocese of Bombay who serves as the Chairperson of Prison Ministry India, often visits prisons in the country.
“As persons in society the best service we can render to prisoners is prison reforms. How do we treat our prisoners? Do they have the basic necessities of life? On this day let us stand in solidarity with our prisoners and let them feel they are not alone,” D’Silva said.
“We must respect the dignity of the human person, who is incarcerated, and corrective measures must be taken to rehabilitate them into society. However, it is equally important that society should accept them back and help them reintegrate in society,” the bishop continued.
Prison Ministry Sunday is celebrated around the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron of prisoners. The Polish Conventual Franciscan friar was killed in Auschwitz in 1941, after exchanging places with a condemned Polish officer who had a family.
Prison Ministry India is an organization of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
“The prison system can be a painful and damaging process for the inmates and their helpless families. The prisoners suffer not just physically, but also psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, and are in urgent need of care and support,” said Father Joseph Gonsalves, the director of the organization.
“The volunteers of Prison Ministry India strive to reach out to our brothers and sisters in prison and bring them inner freedom: Freedom from fear, guilt and shame that grip their lives. We help to give them a sense of dignity while they are still behind bars,” the priest said.
D’Silva has used the occasion to highlight Pope Francis’s recent updating of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say that capital punishment is “inadmissible.”
The death penalty is still on the books in India, although an execution hasn’t been carried out since 2015.
“Pope Francis is correct in decreeing that the death penalty is ‘inadmissible’ under all circumstances and that the Catholic Church must work to abolish it. Many nations have abolished the death penalty … [which] goes against ‘thou shalt not kill.’ We must respect life,” the bishop said.
He then used a biblical example.
“When the people brought the woman to Jesus who committed adultery, Jesus asked them who has not sinned to cast the first stone. All of us have been guilty in killing persons either emotionally, culturally, socially and physically. Should we all be hanged? Besides, God has given us life and only He has the right to take life. We have no right over the other person’s life,” said D’Silva.