Tag Archives: prisoner

28 June: In Vinculis

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was an English poet who was imprisoned for taking part in independence meetings and demonstrations in Ireland. This poem was praised by the Irish critic, Oscar Wilde. In Vinculis means ‘in chains’ as both Peter and Paul were, more than once. Their joint feast falls tomorrow. Let us pray for all prisoners, that in the Lord’s light their spirits may see light, in this world and the next.


Naked I came into the world of pleasure,
   And naked come I to this house of pain.
Here at the gate I lay down my life’s treasure,
   My pride, my garments and my name with men.
   The world and I henceforth shall be as twain,
No sound of me shall pierce for good or ill
   These walls of grief.  Nor shall I hear the vain
Laughter and tears of those who love me still.

Within, what new life waits me!  Little ease,
   Cold lying, hunger, nights of wakefulness,
Harsh orders given, no voice to soothe or please,
   Poor thieves for friends, for books rules meaningless;
This is the grave—nay, hell.  Yet, Lord of Might,
Still in Thy light my spirit shall see light.”

(from “A Critic in Pall Mall Being Extracts from Reviews and Miscellanies” by Oscar Wilde, E. V. (Edward Verrall) Lucas)

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', poetry

14 April, Maundy Thursday: Those who lead must serve

Pope washes feet of 12 prisoners on Holy Thursday

We follow Pope Francis to prison on Maundy Thursday.

In 2018, during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve inmates in Regina Coeli prison. He told the prisoners that Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet to show that leadership is service: “Those who lead must serve. If so many kings, emperors, heads of state had understood this teaching of Jesus and done this instead of giving orders to be cruel, to kill people, how many wars would not have happened!”

Pope Francis urged the prisoners not to give up hope for there always is the possibility of forgiveness; and even though society discards them, Jesus says: “You are important to me.” And he “takes a risk on each of us.” 

Francis  got down on his knees to wash the prisoners’, among them two Muslims and a Buddhist. He has in the past washed the feet of non-Christians; and the feet of women. 

“I am a sinner but come as Christ’s ambassador,” the Pope told the prisoners. “When I wash your feet, remember that Jesus never abandons you and he never tires of forgiving you.”

At the sign of peace he urged those present to use it as a moment for reconciliation and to think of “those who do not love us” and the people “we would like to take revenge on”.

(CNS photo/Vatican Media) 

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8 April, Stories of hope: Emma

Hope! You might well think it’s in short supply these days, with climate change and all the storms, with wars and threats of war, and terror and division. We can only do what we can, where we can. The Irish Chaplaincy was established to do what it can, where it is needed in England. Here comes a Hope-full story. As ever, it is told by Eddie Gilmore.

A conversation on a train station platform reminded me of both the power of stories and the power of hope, and it linked as well with a forthcoming campaign of the Irish Chaplaincy.

Francis, who spent his working life as a clinical psychologist in the NHS, told me excitedly that he was reading my book * and I was equally excited to learn that he had bought not just one but three of them (not all for himself)! “I like how you use narrative,” he explained and he recalled how years ago if he had only a short time to get across the details of a ‘case’ with a senior policy-maker he would usually choose to tell a story about the person in question. This was, in his experience, the most effective means by which change might occur.

When I told Francis about our #storiesofhope campaign to be launched in Lent he remarked, “Hope is about the power to make a difference.” Here is the first of those stories of hope. It is Emma’s story, as told by Breda who features strongly in it, and it is told with Emma’s permission.

A Reason to Live 

Our wonderful team is currently supporting a 35-year-old woman who in February 2021 just days after her release from prison was airlifted to hospital and put into a medical coma for 28 days. Emma had a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin and surrounding muscles and organs which resulted in the amputation of her left leg. Her mother was told that her daughter had a 2% chance of survival and was advised to turn off Life Support. She declined! Initially Emma had no use in both arms but this is slowly improving with intensive therapy at a care home; however she struggles with the use of her right leg as it remains severely damaged. Although Emma’s long-term prognosis isn’t yet fully known, what is certain is that she will need lots of care for many months if not years and will have to endure years of skin graft operations.

Thankfully, the team at the Irish Chaplaincy has been able to support both mother and daughter: practically, by advocating on their behalf to statutory bodies; financially, with small donations for telephone credit, travel assistance as well as essential sundries; emotionally, with visits from two of our caseworkers, who are also available at the end of the telephone anytime for either mother or daughter; and spiritually, through prayer. Additionally, with the help of our friends at Caritas, who when they heard Emma’s story provided a mobility scooter, she is now able to get around better, saying, “I feel like I have my legs back.”

Both mother and daughter are extremely remarkable and humbling; truly inspirational and doing their best to stay positive. They are an absolute pleasure to work with and the essence of our Chaplaincy’s purpose. We would be so very grateful for your thoughts and prayers to help them get through this difficult time and to help us continue in the work we love to do in supporting those most in need. Emma said to one of those who came to visit her: “You’ve given me a reason to live.”

The latest chapter in this story is that with the help of the Irish Chaplaincy Emma has managed to secure suitable accommodation where she can live with her mother after her mother is released from an open prison in a few months’ time. Now Emma not only has a reason to live, she also has her own place to live in!

More such stories of hope are coming soon…

* The link is to our review of Eddie’s book, Looking ahead with Hope; Francis was right, it’s a good read!

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6 April: Little things make a big difference.

We were thinking on exiles yesterday, and again so today. Thanks to the London Irish Chaplaincy for the following reflection. Note that the team do not take it for granted that a cup of tea is all that’s needed. They do their research and act on it, including tried and tested activities alongside innovations. See, Judge, Act, as my father used to say from his YCW days. Consciousness again!

Let us, in other words, be there for our neighbours, and let them be there for us. A widowed lady that I know, another exile, always likes to make a cup of tea when I do a few little jobs for her. She is then able to do a sharing, Christian deed, more important than having her roses pruned.

Although the term ‘innovation’ seems to be the buzzword, we’ve found that most of the time it’s the little things that make a big difference. For example, simply talking to someone, holding a Travellers’ forum in a prison to offer someone a voice, or writing a letter to a prisoner are the most effective ways to lift their spirit. We know people’s needs change over time and we’ve carried out plenty of research to be sure we’re offering the most helpful services. But the message is clear, that in most cases simply being a kind friend is powerful enough to change someone’s life. For us, these simple actions have stood the test of time.

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5 January: Christmas in a prison cell II.

Not every prisoner can be as ready to accept the sacrifice of confinement as Bonhoeffer was. Let us us remember them all at Christmas time in this prayer shared with us by a prison chaplain.

We pray for every imprisoned person
who misses their family,
who cannot hold their children
or visit their parents,
who this Christmas will be surrounded not by loved ones
but by inmates who have no way out.
These are people
whose special holiday dinner 
is served on cafeteria trays,
by people who are paid to be there.
We give thanks
that the gift of the Christ-child on Christmas morning
is not controlled by human hands,
not stopped by locks or bars
but poured out by your special grace.
AMEN.

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4 January: Christmas in a prison cell, I.

At Christmas we remember that the light of Jesus Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness has not quenched it …  Let me share part of a letter written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German theologian and leader of the Confessing Church in the 1930s which opposed Hitler and criticised the mainstream churches for their subservience to the Nazi regime.  Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned in 1943 for his part in a high-level plot to overthrow Hitler.  He was executed in 1945 before Allied troops could release him.

From the Christian point of view there is no special problem about Christmas in a prison cell.  For many people in this building, it will probably be a more genuine occasion than in places where nothing but the name is kept.  That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God from what they mean in human judgement, that God will approach where we turn away, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn – these are things that a prisoner can understand better than other people; for him they really are glad tidings”.  (Letters and Papers from Prison, London: SCM Press).

Bonhoeffer’s witness shed a principled Christian light on a great evil, and although it cost him his life, his continuing example of living a Christ-like life helps us see the dimensions of Christian faith.  We can be glad because all this world’s evil, pain and limitation has been taken into God’s life, transformed, and redeemed.  After all, Jesus’s birth and infancy are but the beginning of a story that will unfold the depths to which God’s love has to go, and the profound generosity of his self-giving.

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25 October: Looking ahead with hope.

Not long ago I met a fellow parishioner, now retired, whose view of the world was decidedly pessimistic. The conjunction of climate emergency, introverted nationalism, individualism and any number of other evils had really hit home to this man whose working life had been full of selfless service. Perhaps covid-19 finished off any optimism he might have felt towards his fellow humans.

Another fellow parishioner, whose own working life has been as full of selfless service, is Eddie Gilmore; regular readers of this blog will agree that his outlook is hope-full, so it’s a joy to find some of his writings from the Irish Chaplaincy website in a new book, Looking ahead with hope, soon to be published by DLT.

Eddie does not gloss over the difficulties of the time we are living through but he subtitles his work Stories of Humanity, Wonder and Gratitude in a Time of Uncertainty’, thereby nailing his colours to the mast. This is a beautiful world and we should be thankful for the privilege of living in a time when, for most of us in Western Europe at least, we have plenty. 

We can eat, we can share food in fellowship. In fellowship we can sing and sing together, pray and pray together, walk and make a pilgrimage together. Togetherness and fellowship is a theme of this book, and for Eddie that means being and singing with prisoners and lonely Irish exiles, with friends from his time in L’Arche, with a group of pilgrims brought together as if by chance. It means cycle rides with friends, walking through Kent, or through France and Spain on the way to Santiago.

Eddie’s style is conversational, friendly and respectful to the reader. This is a book to enjoy and to give to family and friends. Happy, hopeful reading!

The Book is released on October 29th and can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher, DLT: https://www.dartonlongmantodd.co.uk/titles/2342-9781913657420-looking-ahead-with-hope

Or from any bookshop (ISBN: 978-1-913657-42-0)

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Filed under Advent and Christmas, Christian Unity, corona virus, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Reviews

10 October: Prisoners’ Sunday 2021

For forty years now, Prisons Week has encouraged Christian individuals and churches to pray for the needs of all those affected by prisons: prisoners and their families, victims of crime and their communities, those working in the criminal justice system and the many people caring for those affected by crime inside and outside our prisons.

Prisons Week raises awareness and generates prayer. It motivates volunteers to step forward and give their time and gifts, in prisons and in their own communities. It provides an annual focus and reason for Christians to work together, building capacity and motivation to make a difference for people who are out of sight and often out of mind.

Today is Prisons Sunday – the second Sunday in October – marking the beginning of the week of prayer, which runs until Saturday.

Here’s a reflection from our friend Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish Chaplaincy, which supports Irish prisoners in England. It shows how effective this ministry can be, in God’s good time.

The Power of Kindness

By Eddie Gilmore

“We never know, at the time, the ripple of consequences set in motion by the slightest act of kindness.” Those words of the late Jonathan Sacks seem especially apt in the case of a man helped recently by the Irish Chaplaincy.

One of our team, Fiona, had, before the pandemic, begun to visit a Traveller man in one of the big London prisons. He was in segregation, ‘seg’, due to making threats to prison staff and having a weapon smuggled into the prison via a corrupt officer. His original sentence had been four years but he had served sixteen due to poor compliance and aggressive behaviour. Like many of those we meet in prison he had lived a chaotic lifestyle. His childhood included his father committing suicide when he was ten and his mother becoming a drug addict shortly afterwards. I can imagine that he had not received a great deal of kindness growing up. Tragically several of his sons are also in the criminal justice system. Fiona took an interest in him and she would often tell me in supervision about the hilarious comments he would make about various things. He was clearly responding to someone simply giving him a bit of positive attention and treating him in a different way to how he was probably used to being treated.

With prison visiting not possible through the lockdown the contact continued via phone. His aggressive behaviour diminished. He also heard that Fiona had managed to get two other Traveller men from the same prison into a rehab. facility following their release and he began to see this as a possible future option for himself. Eventually Fiona managed to get him considered for parole, and supported him closely through the process. And then one morning we all received an e-mail from Fiona with the incredible news that the parole outcome had been successful. He has just been released and has gone voluntarily into the rehab facility. It’s very early days and there is a lot of anxiety on his part but for him to have got to this point from where he was is nothing short of miraculous.

My background will have been very different to that of the man mentioned above: a stable home with a loving family and lots of opportunities. And yet, there have particular times in my own life when a simple act of kindness has been transformative, and has almost certainly inspired in me the wish to do likewise to others. When I eat my pre- big cycle bowl of porridge I’m often reminded of an act of kindness that was shown to me over twenty years ago. When spending a year in Seoul with Yim Soon and our three then young children I used to go once a month to spend twenty-four hours with the Columbans, a bunch of very welcoming and very entertaining Irish missionary priests (and it was the Columbans who founded the Irish Chaplaincy back in 1957). It was a little oasis for me: a chance to rest, relax, speak English, hear some funny stories, drink ‘real’ tea. One time at breakfast one of the guys, Pat Muldoon, was served with a big bowl of porridge which had been made specially for him. A usual Korean breakfast is much like lunch or dinner: rice together with various side dishes, some of them very spicy, a bowl of soup, meat, maybe even some raw fish for a special treat! He must have seen my eyes light up at the sight of the porridge because he put the bowl in front of me and walked off. True enough, after months of Korean style breakfasts, delicious as they were, all I wanted that morning was a bowl of simple, plain porridge served with a little sprinkling of sugar and a little bit of milk. I’ll never ever forget that gesture of Pat that meant the world to me at the time, nor the words he said to me on every visit, “Be nice to yourself.”

Sacks goes on to say that every day gives each of us an opportunity to change a life and by so doing to change the world, and he concludes that, “We mend the world one life at a time, one act at a time, one day at a time,” and that, “Every good act, every healing gesture, lights a candle of hope in a dark world.”

(Quotes taken from: ‘To heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility’ by Jonathan Sacks)

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25 June, Today this is my vocation, X: being a kind friend is powerful.

Volunteers have a vocation which they might admit to, if pressed. Here is part of what the London Irish Chaplaincy has to say for itself.

The Irish Chaplaincy today

Today, we continue to meet and walk alongside Irish people, especially those most isolated and vulnerable such as Irish prisoners, older Irish people and Travellers. Our work stems from our spiritual roots, embracing the core meaning of Catholic, which is ‘universal’ and ‘inclusive’. We work with people regardless of their religious background.

Who said innovation was the only route to revolution?

Although the term ‘innovation’ seems to be the buzzword, we’ve found that most of the time it’s the little things that make a big difference. For example, simply talking to someone, holding a Travellers’ forum in a prison to offer someone a voice, or writing a letter to a prisoner are the most effective ways to lift their spirit. We know people’s needs change over time and we’ve carried out plenty of research to be sure we’re offering the most helpful services. But the message is clear, that in most cases simply being a kind friend is powerful enough to change someone’s life. For us, these simple actions have stood the test of time.

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Irish Chaplaincy: walking with hope.

Irish Chaplaincy

Are you ready, boots? Start walking!

This week, from April 19th– 24th 2021, many people will be walking to raise funds for the work of the Irish Chaplaincy, and to raise awareness of the elderly Irish we support in Britain, whether living alone or in care homes or in prison. To join in, contact Declan.ganly@irishcaplaincy.org.uk . Put the Spring in your step!

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