31 March 2008

10 Prison Inmates Baptized In Cincinnati Prison

From The Catholic Telegraph , the archdiocesan newspaper of Cincinnati, is this Easter story of 10 inmates received into the Church by Archbishop Pilarczyk.

ARCHDIOCESE — Ten inmates at Lebanon Correctional Institution (LeCI) experienced the sense of hope and promise of new life that accompanies the Easter season when they were welcomed into the Catholic Church on March 23.

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk presided at a Mass at the close-security prison during which the men received the sacraments of initiation. The men were Daniel Charles Baker, Eric Edward Harmon, Scott William Hampton, Jason Allen Harris, Jonathon Dean Leggett, Bernard Perfetto, Dean Allen Preston, David Stephen Sour, Benjamin Charles Walton and Timothy Wilson.

The archbishop baptized 10 inmates, welcoming them into the church.
Through our Lady of Sorrows Parish in nearby Monroe, both LeCI and Warren Correctional Institution are ministered to by a team of Catholic volunteers committed to serving the spiritual needs of their incarcerated Christian brothers, explained Christine Shimrock, who serves as a prison chaplain. The volunteers, representing a number of area parishes, strive to emulate the services provided at the parish level including Mass, instruction and one-on-on counseling. At LeCI, the Catholic group, comprised of approximately 30 inmates, meets weekly and Jesuit Father Gene Carmichael presides at Mass for the men twice monthly.

Shimrock, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Mason, said the opportunity to develop and share their faith is significant for the inmates on several levels. "Society is so quick to judge people for their mistakes, but God doesn’t work that way. It’s important restoratively for the inmates to recognize that we’re all forgiven. More than 85 percent of the inmates will return to society and, as a citizen, I would like someone to return having repented. This ministry enables the inmates to return full of faith and with some spiritual goals."

"They also benefit from the sense of peace and fellowship because they don’t find that in the prison culture," Shimrock added. "They find others who believe in and support them too. It’s the one place they won’t be judged, and they’re given the fundamental tools they need to rebuild their faith and their lives."

The 10 men petitioned Archbishop Pilarczyk to celebrate Easter Mass at the prison and confer the sacraments by writing letters and, along with the volunteers and LeCI staff, were thrilled to welcome him.

Joining the catechumens and their sponsors were volunteers from the prison’s Kairos program and many of their family members.

Shimrock praised LeCI’s administration for the decision to allow the inmates’ relatives to be present for the Mass. "This is unprecedented," she said. "Families aren’t allowed past the visitors’ area, so to see the place where the men worship is so meaningful. The prison administration and staff have been so supportive of our program. They realize that when the men are faith-filled, it trickles down to the entire prison."

During the offertory, food items were collected from inmates.
"It’s really something special today for the men being baptized," said Warden Timothy Brunsman, who attended the Easter liturgy. "We’re thrilled to have the archbishop here."
Also on hand for the joyous service were Fathers Carmichael, George Klein, Mark Schmieder and Terry Meehan, pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows.

In his homily, Archbishop Pilarczyk spoke of the joy of the Easter season saying, "Easter is the celebration of new life and Jesus’ return to the living. In baptism, we begin to live a new life — the life of the risen Jesus."

"Life’s a wonderful thing," he added. "It’s a great gift. Today we thank God for life. May you find peace and contentment in the life of the Lord."

Wearing crisp white shirts, the elect were then called forward to be baptized and confirmed. After the archbishop conferred the sacraments, the assembly welcomed the new members of the Catholic Church with resounding applause. The men later received the Eucharist for the first time.

Eric Harmon, who attended a Catholic high school, said he decided to participate in RCIA because "It was time to put myself spiritually where I needed to be and that is being a member of the Catholic family."

Being Catholic in prison is a challenge, Harmon acknowledged. "The pettiness goes to the extreme at times, and it’s rough to keep on the right path with the corruption going on around you, so I pray a lot," he said.

His fellow inmate, Bernard Perfetto, said what drew him to Catholicism is "the message of love, forgiveness and hope — three things that are in short supply in prison. It (becoming Catholic) really gives me the feeling that I’m a servant of God and that means a lot when you’re confined in a place like this."

Perfetto said his faith will also give him the courage to re-enter society when the time comes. "It gives me hope to know that there is a faith community I can be part of on the outside, a place where I will be accepted."

Raised with no religion in his life, Benjamin Walton said he felt a sense of belonging when attending Catholic Mass and found RCIA to be "educational and enlightening."

"I know this is where I want to be," he said of the Catholic Church. "I’ve been so excited. This is the day I’ve joined Christ. I can’t stop smiling."

Walton was especially excited to have several family members join him for the occasion, including his grandmother, Sharon Ray.

"I’m so proud that he chose this path," Ray said. "I wouldn’t have missed this day for the world."

Among the other relatives present were Lizabeth and Gary Preston, whose son, Dean, received the sacraments. Although not Catholic themselves, the Prestons said they wholeheartedly supported Dean’s faith journey and spoke of the difference it has made in his life.

"I’ve seen him grow a lot in his relationship with the Lord," Lizabeth Preston said. "This has also strengthened our bond. We’re much closer now. "

"He seems more at peace in all the chaos around him," Gary Preston added. "It’s only been through Christ that he’s been able to achieve that."

After many years of searching, Jonathon Leggett’s faith has also brought him a sense of peace. "I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders," he said. "Given the things I’ve done in the past, I never thought I could be forgiven. Knowing God has forgiven me is uplifting."

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