VATICAN/PARAGUAY, Maria Fischer •
They had met before, and at that time it also had to do with serving young prisoners. It was in July 2015 on the banks of the river at Asuncion when Fr Pedro stood on a podium with Pope Francis and a young prisoner from the Youth Prison in Itaugua. Now Pope Francis and Fr Pedro Kühlcke have met again in the Vatican at the close of the International Congress on “Integral Human Development and the Catholic Prison Pastorate” for regional and national leaders of the prison pastorate. “Our Holy Father took quite some time to talk to Fr Pedro,” Pamela Fabiano relates. She was present on behalf of the organising Dicastery. On his way home to Paraguay Fr Pedro related, “I asked him for his blessing for the new project – opening our own bakery in Case Madre de Tuparenda, and gave him “Chipa” and my book ‘Freedom in Prison. Kentenich Pedagogy on the Peripheries”. —
It is well known that Pope Francis takes a special interest in prisoners and those who are committed to serving them. When he travels in Italy or overseas he repeatedly visits prisons, particularly for youth. On these occasions he likes to tell the prisoners not to give up on themselves, they shouldn’t lose courage. As Cardinal in Buenos Aires he often visited prisons in the city, as what he said at the end of his talk to the Congress participants testifies: “I would like to close with two images, two images that could help us. We can’t talk about the settlement of debt towards society in a prison without windows. There is no humane punishment without a field of vision. No one can change their life if they don’t have a field of vision. So often we are in the habit of tabulating the prospects of our prisoners. Take this image of a window and a field of vision, and see to it that in your countries the prisons always have a window and a field of vision, even for life sentences, which I find questionable, but see to it that even a lifelong sentence has a field of vision.
The second image is a picture I have seen a number of times when I took the bus in Buenos Aires to near Villa Devoto and drove past the Devoto prison. The queues of people visiting the prisoners. Above all the picture of the mothers, the mothers of prisoners, whom everyone could see, because they stood in the queue for an hour before they could go in to pass through the security controls, which were often humiliating. These women weren’t ashamed of being seen by everyone. My son is in there, and they gave their faces for their son. May the Church learn motherliness from these women, and learn the gestures of motherliness we have to show to our imprisoned brothers and sisters. The window and the queue of mothers are the two images I want you to take along with you.”
Intensive work, more support and commitment
During the days of the Congress there was a packed programme. About forty directors and authorities engaged in the prison pastorate from 35 countries exchanged their experiences and concerns. The meetings began with a prayer for prisoners throughout the world.
The organizing Dicastery recognised the great variety of the circumstances and challenges that this pastoral service has to confront. The emphasis was placed on the spiritual and material care of the prisoners, their families and those who had already completed their sentences and returned to society. However, it considered it necessary to offer more support and clear directives to the prison pastors. By far the majority of the Bishops’ Conferences have already accepted the obligation to offer pastoral service to prisoners.
In Paraguay the programme for human development and re-integration into society, “Casa Madre de Tuparenda”, in the shadow of the national Schoenstatt shrine, is the first and only one of its kind in the whole country.
Before he left Rome, Fr Pedro Kühlcke was interviewed by Vatican News/Radio Vatican. He passed on what he and his team are doing to carry out our Holy Father’s request “to overcome the stigmatisation of those who have made a mistake. Instead of offering help and sufficient resources for a humanly dignified life, we have got used to rejecting and disregarding the efforts a person makes to correspond with God’s love in their lives. They are again exposed to the dangers connected with the lack of possibilities for development in the midst of violence and insecurity.”
That is precisely where Casa Madre de Tuparenda starts. It does so thanks to the prayer, visits and donations of many people, especially the solidarity network of schoenstatt.org and Betterplace. Thank you. And please keep it up.
Photos: Pamela Fabiano, Vatican Media
Original: Spanish. Translation: Mary Cole, Manchester, UK