prisoners

50 Prison Inmates Tour Vatican Gardens, Sistine Chapel

Image via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Fifty inmates from a Rome jail were given a private tour of the Vatican Museums on Sept. 13, setting the tone for Pope Francis’ visit to a U.S. prison later this month and emphasizing his concern for people on the margins.

The group from the Rebibbia prison visited the Vatican Gardens and St. Peter’s Basilica, before being given a private tour through the Vatican Museums by Museums Director Antonio Paolucci.

Once the inmates reached the Sistine Chapel, best known for its world-famous Michelangelo’s fresco, the Vatican allowed the prisoners to listen in to the pope’s midday Angelus prayer.

Pope Francis to Greet Children of Prisoners with a Train Ride and a Gift of Kites

Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS
Pope Francis blesses a child at the Vatican on March 14, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

Pope Francis wants to treat the children of Italian prisoners to a train ride within the Vatican walls, a gesture intended to draw Catholics’ attention to Jesus’ command to minister to prisoners and the poor.

On May 30, Vatican guards will open a great iron gate to the “Children’s Train,” which will travel along the city-state’s only branch line for an appointment with the pope.

The chosen passengers are the prisoners’ children from Rome, Latina, Bari, and Trani.

They will have a midday meeting with Francis and will be given colored kites.

Praying for Prisoners with Jesus

Photo via Gwoeii / Shutterstock.com
Silhouette of a prisoner behind a barbed wire fence. Photo via Gwoeii / Shutterstock.com

Jesus not only knew how to pray; he knew what it was like to be arrested. When he had finished his table prayer, Jesus and his disciples went out across the Kidron valley to a garden. Judas knew about that garden because he and the other disciples often met there with Jesus. This time, Judas didn’t come to pray, but brought a detachment of soldiers and religious police. They arrested Jesus, bound him and took him away to be tried.

Jesus escaped prison only because he was executed by the state the next day. This crucified, risen, and wounded Jesus has returned to the heart of God. He continues to pray for us. Why wouldn’t Jesus be praying also for those who are in prison? Why wouldn’t we?

It's Time to End the Death Penalty

I AM AGAINST the death penalty in principle. The deliberate killing of prisoners does not demonstrate our society's respect for life, which we are trying to teach—especially to those who violate it. We simply should not kill to show we are against killing. It's also easy to make a, yes, fatal mistake, as alarming DNA testing has demonstrated, revealing some death row inmates to be innocent. In addition, the death penalty is clearly biased against poorer people, who cannot afford adequate legal representation, and is outrageously disproportionate along racial lines. The facts are that few white-collar killers sit on death row, and fewer are ever executed. And there is no evidence that capital punishment deters murder; the data just doesn't show that.

At a retreat I attended a couple of years ago, conservative activist Richard Viguerie approached me and said, "Jim, let's do something together to really shake up politics." Viguerie had become a friend, so I asked him what that might be. "I am a Catholic," Viguerie said. "I am against the death penalty, and I think it's time for conservatives and liberals who agree on that to begin to work together." I was fascinated at the thought of unlikely partners helping to accomplish that together. So we have had several dinner meetings over the last two years with both conservative and liberal leaders—mostly people of faith—to discuss the issue.

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When the Bible Reads You (October 2012)

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Our readings from Hebrews yield one of the most intense images for the experience of being addressed by the Holy One: “Indeed the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow: It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (12: 4-16). Those who passionately feel convicted by the Word to work for the transformation of the broken and unjust structures of society need to witness to our own continuous religious experience of being penetrated, judged, and aroused in our living conversation through scripture. Otherwise people might mistakenly imagine that this strong language somehow belongs to those who extol the inerrant authority of scripture while finding in it support for reactionary values.

A prison chaplain gave a new inmate a Bible. Asked later what he made of it, the prisoner replied simply, “I didn’t read the book; it read me.” And this isn’t an occult experience. We allow ourselves to be addressed whenever we drop those filters that screen out impressions that threaten upheaval for the status quo. A critic once said of Austrian artist Oscar Kokoschka’s drawings, “We don’t look at them, they look at us, searching, probing, and testing us,” and these words come back to me often when I open the Bible for meditation, and drop my defenses.

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ October 7 ]
Your Hardness of Heart
Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 8;
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

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Crime, Forgiveness and Retributive Justice: A God's Politics Interview with Naseem Rakha

naseem_portrait
Naseem Rakha, author of the 2009 novel The Crying Tree sees justice differently. Rakha, an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on National Public Radio and elsewhere, has covered two death penalty cases in Oregon -- the only two in that state's history -- and has spent considerable time exploring the deeper story behind capital punishment, retributive justice and forgiveness.

"What I learned from talking to these victims is that there is a place, not called closure, not called moving on, but there is a place of empowerment," Rakha said in a recent interview with God's Politics. "Crime strips people of power, and there's nothing that the justice system or really even churches can give to you to replace that power. It is an act of wanting to sit down and meet with the person who strips that power from you that has transformed people's lives and gotten them to a point where they can forgive the act, because they see the perpetrator no longer as a monster, but as a human that has made a terrible mistake."

Who is Organizing the California Prison Hunger Strike?

Behind Bars. Fremantle Prisonphoto © 2009 Amanda Slater | more info (via: Wylio)On the first day of this month, inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, joined by inmates in other prisons around the state, began a hunger strike to protest "inhumane and torturous conditions" in the Security Housing Unit, which holds inmates in solitary confinement for decades at a time. They're still at it; the state has admitted that as many as 6,600 inmates around the state have participated in the strike. Last week, corrections officials offered the prisoners a proposed deal, which they unanimously rejected.

This comes after a Supreme Court decision in May that ordered California to reduce its prison population, as overcrowding was causing "needless suffering and death."

Part of what's making the standoff worse is the belief that the strike is, in essence, a form of gang activity. For one thing, as Colin Dayan noted in passing in a New York Times op-ed, "How they have managed to communicate with each other is anyone's guess." The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), though, isn't so stumped.

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