Roman Catholic Prison Chaplains Conference
“The title of this piece ‘Roman Catholic Prison Chaplains Conference’ hardly conjures up images of hilarity. Indeed, it was a sober enough experience but for all that I would describe it as an enriching and encouraging one.
The annual Conference took place at St Mary’s University, Twickenham in the suburbs of London. In all about 80 chaplains were present. It was a very busy time packed with lots to do and absorb as meeting many colleagues and receiving much information took place.
The conference lasted for two days. It began on the Tuesday after lunch, 5th September and finished at lunchtime on 7th and every moment was taken up. There were various aspects to the conference which included Prayer times – these consisted of Mass, morning and night prayer, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, then there was a period where we were introduced to new resources produced by Catholic publishers and chaplains who produced a book or course to respond to a need within the penal system. A morning was facilitated to help us to identify and value what we bring to our ministry and to explore the opportunities to further our own skills. We spent a lot of time sharing about our strengths and weaknesses as well as contributing to building up pictures of the many aspects of our role throughout the prison system. This was a very positive experience because it enabled each one to engage with several other chaplains and so build up relationships with colleagues working in the same ministry.
We were encouraged to engage with on-line courses especially those made available by chaplaincy headquarters for chaplains specifically.
We got some really good input too. One of the two talks that most impacted on me was from a woman called Dr Pia Matthews entitled ‘Issues arising from the Synod on the Family and Prisons’. This was an account of her time in Rome during the Synod on the Family from the time she was appointed by the Pope to attend as an expert to the time she completed this task. It was important to hear that because every chaplain has a concern for the family of the prisoner and when families become involved with chaplaincy every chaplain will do their best to assist them in their struggle with their relative being in prison.
The second talk was given by the lead chaplain and it was entitled ‘The Man of Sorrows and the Dignity of the Prisoner’. He made a comparison between Jesus, the Man of Sorrows and the often despairing, isolated and disempowered person in prison. He introduced us to a picture of the Man of Sorrows in which he said we can often see a likeness in prisoners. This talk, which brought the conference to a close was a perfect finish as we were left with an image to take with us to our ministries, of the Man of Sorrows and the many men of sorrows who abide in our prisons.”