The following comes from an October 22 Angelus article by Jorge Luis Macias:
TECATE, MEXICO — Dozens of Catholics travelled to this border town to visit thousands of men in prison in El Hongo.
Convened by the Charity Missionary Theotokos at St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel, the visitors passed numerous security checkpoints before participating in the Holy Mass and sharing food with prisoners.
Every year, the group brings men’s briefs, T-shirts, socks and hygiene products for inmates. They began the tradition 18 years ago in a city jail in Mexicali. As part of the recent feast of Our Lady of Mercy — patron saint of prisoners — pilgrims and members of the Prison Pastoral of the Diocese of Mexicali joined Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz and Father Nicolas Batta Tierrablanca, priest of the Order of La Merced and spiritual leaders of prisoners in prayer.
“I see that God is in every one of them,” said Socorro Batanero, coordinator of the pilgrimage and parishioner of St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel. “One gets to feel as if you are in heaven; you see the prisoner’s fervor and their love for God. That tells me that they have found forgiveness for what they have done before in their lives.”
Professor Hilda Maria Larios Castañeda, member of the prison pastoral care of El Hongo, said the annual visit paid by the pilgrims of California is critical in the life of the inmates.
“That somebody cares about the needs they have is very valuable,” Larios Castañeda said. “As a Church, we are their family and they see us as family.”
What a great thing these Catholics are doing! In case anyone doesn’t know, the relics, the entire reliquary containing St. Maria Goretti’s body, is touring the eastern half of the USA right now. In addition to visiting parishes her remains are visiting various prisons. Her first stop in America was Sing Sing in NY. Her last stop will be death row in Huntsville,TX. Please see http://www.mariagoretti.com for information on The Pilgrimage of Mercy. ps There are plans being drawn up for her to visit the western half of the US later.
Like many who fear the Prison Gangs (inside and out), we are hesitant to join in because it may lead to targeting as a mule to smuggle contraband, possibly under threat to family and friends.
Hence – perhaps more participation could be achieved if people felt more secure in the interactions, and that identity would be protected from Outsiders – including those on the outside the prisoners communicate with.
Mercy and visiting those in Prison is a Christian Act, which many fear not for themselves but for others who may be brought in to a net cast by bad people…
Addressing this issue should be part of future outreach stories.