Message on Prison Awareness Sunday
Greetings on the occasion of the 32nd Prison Awareness Sunday celebration on October 27, 2019!
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines will once again lead the faithful in this event to bring to the consciousness of our people the plight of the members of the prison community, especially the persons deprived of their liberties and their families, the released PDLs, as well as the correctional employees.
The gospel on this particular day, which is taken from the Gospel of St. Luke, tells of the parable of the Pharisee, who prayed from his self-importance, and the tax collector, who out of sheer shame, prayed from the door of the synagogue.
In contrasting the prayer of the Pharisee with the prayer of the tax collector, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in humility before God. He surprises his listeners by showing the tax collector as an example of faith, rather than the Pharisee.
If anyone should be a model for prayer, a Pharisee was a likely candidate. However, Jesus offers the tax collector as a model for prayer. Tax collectors were abhorred because they were collaborators with the Roman authorities in a system that allowed the tax collectors to line their own pockets by charging in excess of the defined taxes. Yet, in this parable, Jesus offers the humility of the tax collector as a model for the prayer of a disciple. He reminds us that when we pray, we must remember our need for God in our lives. When we are too full of ourselves, there is very little room for God’s grace to work in us.
In the situation faced by our imprisoned brethren, they too have been stigmatized as hardcore sinners who have lost their union with God and his people, by the sins they have committed. And we, those who are outside and “obedient” to the Law and God’s commandments are the righteous ones. But as the Gospel teaches, it only takes a humble and repentant heart and gratefulness for God’s forgiveness for our prayers to be heard and be pleasing in the eyes of our Lord.
In our celebration this year, with the theme, “Thank you Lord for Forgiving Me, A Sinner”, may I urge our people to ponder on the following points:
1. God’s LOVE is unconditional and radical and it extends even to those who have committed the most heinous of crimes and most notorious criminals.
2. Every human PERSON is by nature good. It is our original design, made by our Loving Father and Almighty Creator. No one is born evil. A person’s dignity is not lost despite his/her sinful act. They have the capacity to change for the better especially in an environment where they would be helped to grow— this is what our corrections pillars should focus on aside from merely custodial and security concerns. And this is what all of us in the Church, led by our chaplains and Volunteers in Prison Service should do in cooperation with our correctional officials.
3. Only love will transform our brethren who have erred. No amount of fear or terror inflicted on them will make them reform. In fact, they become hardened when treated harshly.
During this week-long celebration let us be aware of the plight of people who have ignored and long been considered dead by our society, people who have been condemned because of the sins they have committed.
Let us follow our Lord’s example of ministering to the needy, the weak, the poor & the lost.
His Holiness Pope Francis implores us to remember prisoners as part of our mission to tend to the poor, forgotten and neglected. He reminds us that “confinement is not the same thing as exclusion”. Indeed, wherever he goes he offers hope to the prisoners.
Let us follow our Lord Jesus and our Pope’s example of touching the prisoners so that they may be able to say, “Lord, Thank You, For Being Merciful To Me, A Sinner”!
Bishop Joel Z. Baylon