PARAGUAY, PRISON MINISTRY “Visitación de Maria”, by Sergio Galeano y Roberto González •
Each Saturday, there is a celebration at Centro Educativo Itauguá (CEI)detention center for teens that we do not want to miss. Moreover each celebration is different, a good time is guaranteed, and one meets new people.
“Good afternoon boys, how are you?” is the traditional greeting at the beginning of the gathering.
“Blessed!” they always strongly respond. “Do you know what we are going to do today?” we ask. “Yes, catechesis!” one of them responds. And they go with their catechist to later rejoin the group for the final prayer and snacks.
There are reasons for being a CEI inmate, but God is so great and so good that he manifests himself in every one of these boys who are deprived of their freedom. The testimony of having found Christ and our Mother in their lives encourages us go forward.
A day of grace at the detention center
Sunday, 22 November, Feast of Christ the King, forty-one teen inmates gave their fiat to our Lord Jesus Christ. They had been preparing since July. Some said their fiat for the first time in the Sacrament of Baptism, others received First Communion, and others gave their fiat by confirming their faith in the Catholic life that they profess; it is the fourth time that these sacraments were celebrated at CEI. Three of the inmates had arrived at CEI like so many others, without any religious practice. They decided to receive Baptism last year, and then they received First Communion, and now Confirmation!
The great day arrived and they eagerly waited for us; each one went with their catechist to finalize details. Everyone received blue shirts that were donated for this day; they wanted to be well dressed for the celebration!
Happiness was reflected on the faces of the youths and their relatives – they met once again after a long time – to accompany the decision of each one of the boys to follow Christ in a most unlikely place.
The task of sowing seeds of love
It was a beautiful ceremony in which the entire prison ministry team could once again say: “Mission accomplished!” After the Holy Mass, there was an unending photo session, in which everyone wanted to hold on to this moment of feeling like important people for God, for their families, for us.
As the chaplain of CEI, Fr. Pedro Kühlcke says, “The work of the Prison Ministry, Mary’s Visit, consists of sowing, sowing the seed of love, that seed telling the teens and their families they are not alone, and that God is present in each one of them– caring for them and loving deeply. Today, after almost a year, this crop– of which many said was a waste of time that change was not possible– is bearing fruit.
The attachment that they have with the Tupãrenda Shrine, where on the first Sunday of every month, they meet Jesus in a Youth Mass eager to know him more and more, is an example.”
“Let the children come to me”
During the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us that the Father’s mercy wants to be close to those who need his forgiveness the most and he is capable of converting hearts. He tells those who are deprived of their freedom that each time they cross the threshold into their cell, thinking about and praying to the Father, this gesture can be like a step through the Holy Door for them, because God’s mercy is capable of converting hearts, he is also capable of converting the bars into an experience of freedom.
“…but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.19:14). Many times, we forget that those at CEI are children, children who need much love, affection and closeness. As St. John Bosco said: “The youngsters should not only be loved, but they themselves should know that they are loved. Only if a youth feels loved, appreciated, taken into account, respected, then and only then will we reach his heart and bring out the best that he has within.”
“Now we are preparing for Christmas at the jail,” Fr. Pedro commented when he sent this article to schoenstatt.org. “These are especially difficult days for youths who are here, and we want to make them happy with small gifts and a good Christmas dinner. Through this, they will be more open to the Child Jesus’ message of peace. In order to do this, the donations that we just received from the users of schoenstatt.org help us a lot. I want to take this opportunity to express heartfelt thanks especially to the good person who did not leave an address so that I could thank them personally.”
At the Jubilee audience, Pope Francis told Schoenstatters worldwide:
“Right, the truth is that Mary is the one who knows how to transform a stable into a home for Jesus with rags and a mountain of tenderness. And she is also able to make a child jump in his mother’s womb as we heard in the Gospel. She is able to give us the joy of Jesus.” (Pope Francis, A culture of encounter is a covenant culture that creates solidarity, October 2014).
At CEI, Mary is named Sergio, Roberto, Regina, Fr. Pedro…
How to donate:
Bank account in Paraguay
Acct. No. 001-065259-003
Congregation of Schoenstatt Fathers
Bank account in Europe
Schönstatt-Patres International e. V.
IBAN DE91 4006 0265 0003 1616 26
Intended use: P. Pedro Kuehlcke, Casa Madre de Tuparenda