Message for 33rd Prison Awareness Sunday
Forty five years ago, a group of prisoners at the death row of the Maximum compound of the Bureau of Prisons wrote a letter to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines pleading to the leaders of the church to look at the welfare of people like them who have been isolated, discriminated and forgotten.
It was a plea for help. They said that they, like people outside were also children of God despite the wrong they have committed. They needed to be assisted in their process of restoring their relationships with themselves, their families, the society and God. They also wanted to be healed from the effects of the wronged they have done. It was indeed a call for mercy and compassion.
On March 25, 1975, the CBCP responded to the petition of the prisoners and formed the Episcopal Commission on Prisoners Welfare (ECOPRIW). It became the agency of the CBCP charged to look at the welfare of our brothers and sisters in prison. In 1998 the agency became known as the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC).
Since then the Commission has been at the forefront of bringing Christ to the members of the Prison Community. The ECPPC does this through its diocesan/parish counterparts in prison ministry, otherwise called VIPS or Volunteers in Prison Service.
The volunteers concretize this love through the integrated Prison Pastoral Program namely: Worship, Formation, Service, and Advocacy.
The Commission realizing that it cannot solely address the huge challenges in the Ministry decided to establish linkages both locally and internationally.
It is the founding and active member of the Coalition Against the Death Penalty (CADP), Philippine Against Youth Defender (PAYO), Integrated Correctional Association of the Philippines (ICAP), Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) Anti-Death Penalty Task Force.
Internationally, it is a member of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care (ICCPPC) and International Prison Chaplains Association (IPCA). Since 1987, the Commission had also embarked on intensifying awareness on the plight of those in jails and prison. It has designated the last Sunday of October every year as a day to remember and respond to the needs of those in jails and prison. It also worked on making the government declare the celebration of the National Correctional Consciousness Week every last week of October.
The foregoing efforts are concrete manifestation of what today’s Gospel enjoins us “to love God and to love our neighbors”.
To love is the greatest commandment of Christ. He simply did not preach this, but He showed us how to do it.
Because of the love Christ has shown, sinners repented, the lonely jumped with joy, the weak became strong, and the hopeless were filled with hope.
It is love that gives light and salvation especially to God’s Anawim… the prisoners.
Today, October 25, 2020, we observe the 33rd Prison Awareness Sunday, during this pandemic brought about by the COVID Corona virus, the Church urges us to reach out to those who are in need especially the prisoners to bring once more Christ’s love and to let them experience God’s saving action.
To be true followers of Christ, we are challenged to address the burning issues confronting those who have problems.
As of today, there are about 100,000 prisoners all over the country. Only about 40,000 of these prisoners are convicted. The rests are in detention while their cases are still on trial. While they have been in lockdown there were prisoners afflicted with COVID virus.
More than ever, these persons deprived of liberties need our help. They need to feel that the Lord has not abandoned them and that He is with them, that He cares and loves them. As believers in Christ can make Gods presence to them real.
It is our hope and prayer that we will heed the call of the Church to be bearers of Good News to our brothers and sisters in prison.
Let us continue to journey with them in the process of restoration and healing despite the threat of this pandemic.+Joel Z. Baylon, D.D.
Bishop of Legazpi
25 October 2020
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