Five Quotes from Pope Francis’ Laudato Si: Beauty Will Save the World

A lot has already been written about Laudato Si’: On Care of Our Common Home, Pope Francis’ new encyclical on ecology. Most reactions have focused on the politics, the economics, or the science in it — all good, important perspectives. But the document is truly beautiful. There are passages that made me stop in my tracks and savor. As the writer Austen Ivereigh puts it:

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement who spent most of her life with the poor, loved the Dostoevsky quote, “Beauty will save the world.” She saw immense suffering and injustice, and a devotion to the beautiful was her response. If you see and acknowledge beauty in something or someone, it becomes awfully difficult see haphazard destruction of creation and people and do nothing.

Pope Francis’ call for a renewed sense of wonder at the miracle of creation is a key ingredient the Church can offer to the ecological conversation, and to make that appeal with such rich language heightens the call’s potency.Here are five of the encyclical’s most beautiful passages.

1) St. Francis of Assisi’s love of creation is a great example. 

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever [St. Francis] would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.” (no. 11)

Fall in love with the Earth, this gift of pure abundance that God has freely given us. This disposition cannot be written off as “naive romanticism,” Pope Francis writes, “for it affects the choices which determine our behavior.” If we lose our wonder and awe, our attitude toward the Earth will be that of “masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on [our] immediate needs.”

2)  We must listen for two cries.

Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (no. 50)

Humans are designed to feel compassion when they hear someone crying. The exterior expression of pain or sadness has an interior effect on the other. We don’t hear crying, though, if plug our ears and put our heads under a pillow. “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities,” Pope Francis writes (no. 117), “it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” As Jesus put it, whoever has ears ought to hear.

3) To grow your own care for the earth and for the poor, get in touch with your inner child.

The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighborhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves. (no. 84)

Places form us. When we forget our intimate connection to place, we take it for granted, and the move to exploitation is not far off.

4) Take the long view.

Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others…the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. (no. 159)

Taking the long view, what’s best for me right now might not line up with what’s best for all of us for centuries to come. If we see the planet as a gift — gift we have received and gift we will pass on — we can develop gratitude. And gratitude is the best tool for breaking down self-centeredness.

5) Simplify, simplify, simplify. 

In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. (no. 223)

Simplicity is not a superficial reduction of stuff, but what Pope Francis calls “an attitude of the heart” (no. 226), one which “is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full.” At the center of Laudato Si’ is this call to conversion: individual, communal, and global conversion, opening our hearts to the fire of God’s love for the world. Beauty is the first spark.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.

Seeking Christ in the Poor and Vulnerable

In his modern spiritual classic Tattoos on the Heart, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, writes about the gang-intervention ministry he runs in Los Angeles called Homeboy Industries.

Frequently, Fr. Greg says Mass at juvenile detention camps, and he shares the story of a meeting with one of the teenagers there. After Mass one day, a kid walks over to Fr. Greg, “all swagger and pose,” with a scowl fixed on his face.

“What’s your name?” Fr. Greg asks.

“SNIPER,” the kid replies.

Fr. Greg pushes back – there’s no way the kid’s mom named him Sniper.

“What’s your name?” he asks again.

“Gonzalez,” the kid says, easing up a little.

But Fr. Greg wants to know what the kid’s mother calls him. The replies with a Spanish word that loosely translates as “blockhead.”

Fr. Greg tells the kid he doesn’t doubt it. “But, son, I’m looking for birth certificate here.”

Softening right before Fr. Greg’s eyes, the kid squeaks out his full first name: “Napoleón.”

What a historic, noble name, Fr. Greg tells the kid. But there’s no way your mom uses the whole thing. What does she call you?

Fr. Greg writes: “Then I watch him go to some far, distant place – a location he has not visited in some time. His voice, body language, and whole being are taking on a new shape – right before my eyes.”

Speaking just above a whisper, the kids says, “Sometimes, when my mom’s not mad at me…she calls me…Napito.”

“I watched this kid move, transformed, from Sniper to Gonzalez to [Blockhead] to Napoleón to Napito,” Fr. Greg writes. “We all just want to be called by the name our mom uses when she’s not [ticked] off at us.”

Names are powerful things. By digging down through Napito’s five layers of names, Fr. Greg started to build a relationship with the teenager. Napito felt valued and cared for. He felt important.

I think names might be one key part of building what Pope Francis calls “a culture of encounter.” In the Holy Father’s native Spanish, the word encuentro means much more than a mere run-in. Instead, it implies the sort of mutuality and kinship present in Fr. Greg’s meeting with Napito.

Pope Francis talks about encounter as an antidote to what he calls a “throwaway culture,” in which people who are seen as useless – the unborn, the elderly, the poor and homeless – are pushed to the margins or even literally discarded. However, if we encounter individuals and communities that are usually pushed aside – if we get to know their names – the throwaway culture begins to crumble. You don’t throw a friend away.

The importance of building a “culture of encounter” has found a new emphasis during the papacy of Pope Francis, but it’s not a new idea. Indeed, Christ himself spent so much of his earthly ministry building a culture of encounter, as he dined and conversed with tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, the poor and hungry, and other people who were usually excluded. Pope Francis’ call is the same as Jesus’ call.

Reflecting on Fr. Greg’s story makes me think about how we might deepen our commitment to building a name-based culture of encounter here in the Diocese of Camden. Here’s one question that I keep mulling over: How might the Church be different if every Catholic knew at least one person by name who had been threatened by the throwaway culture? What would it take to make that goal a real possibility?

For those in the Camden area, be sure to check out an upcoming initiative to get this “culture of encounter” momentum going, called The Encounter Series: Seeking Christ in the Poor and Vulnerable, a three-part experience set for this May.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.

A Very Catholic Week: The March for Life, Selma, and Immigration Reform

There are three things I heard over the past week that are stuck in my head.

First, “We are the pro-life generation!” Thousands of young people chanted this refrain at last Thursday’s March for Life in Washington.

Then, “We’re not asking – we’re demanding! Give us the vote!” This was a masterful Daniel Oyelowo portraying Martin Luther King, Jr., in the film Selma, which I saw on Saturday. In the scene, the minister and civil rights leader is speaking to a church congregation of African Americans who had systematically been blocked from registering to vote in Selma, Alabama.

Finally, “La iglesia está con ustedes,” or “The Church stands with you.” This was the message delivered by Bishop Sullivan and pastor Fr. Vince Guest at an information session on President Obama’s immigration executive action at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton on Sunday. At the gathering, which drew over 500 people, experts from the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice described the president’s order, which could make thousands of undocumented South Jersey residents eligible for a type of temporary permission to stay in the United States.

Taken together, these lines and the events where I heard them offer some interesting points about discipleship. Here are three:

1) God takes sides; we should, too.

I once heard a conference speaker tell the story of an older brother, a younger sister, and a dad. The brother often picked on his sister, she would call out for Dad’s help, and he would intervene on her behalf. The son complained, “You always take her side! You love her more than me!” The father replied, “It’s because I love you both the same that I take her side. If someone ever picks on you, I’ll take your side.”

This anecdote gets at something crucial about God’s love. Of course He loves all his children the same amount. But like the dad in the story, that doesn’t mean he remains neutral in all conflicts. Instead, as we see over and over again in Scripture, he sides with the oppressed and suffering. Think of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt who Moses leads to freedom, the exiles in Babylon who God’s prophet Isaiah comforts, and the woman caught in adultery who Jesus defends from the angry, judgmental mob. To imitate God’s love in our own lives, we must be on the look-out for similar instances of the powerful targeting certain groups of people, and raise our voices with and for those in harm’s way. What incredible examples of this sort of faith in action I witnessed on the National Mall, at the movie theater, and at Holy Cross.

2) As we do our best to take the side of the poor and vulnerable consistently, we will find that we don’t fit neatly into the American political left/right binary.

I love the consistency of the message woven through my recent experiences: pro-life, pro-racial justice, pro-immigrant family. It reminded me of something Cardinal Timothy Dolan said during a speech a couple years ago. We are called to be comprehensive in our care for “the uns,” he said: “the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated.”

I imagine a Catholic advocate phoning her Congressman four times in a given week, calling about various issues that the Catholic Church in the US is speaking up about. On Monday, she urges the representative to work toward the legal recognition of the unborn as human beings. On Tuesday, she asks him to protect social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid. On Wednesday, she voices opposition to physician-assisted suicide. On Thursday, she calls for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. And on Friday, the congressman’s receptionist wonders aloud, “What party does that woman belong to, anyway?”

If we truly let our faith inform our politics, then that’s the question people might be asking themselves about us.

3) Siding with those who are vulnerable is risky.

In Selma, King gives a sermon in response to the racially motivated murder of a teenager in the town. “Those who have gone before us say, No more! No more!” he says. “That means protest! That means march! That means disturb the peace! That means jail! That means risk! That is hard!”

I think of the hundreds of parishioners who gathered at Holy Cross on Sunday – many of whom, who, despite the risk of deportation, keep working to provide for their families and secure civil rights. I feel for the young pro-life marchers whose peers look at them with suspicion or condescension. Selma invited me to remember those in who were beaten and killed because of their race, and to lift up those who continue the ongoing hard work of racial reconciliation across the country.

After the March for Life, I made it to Lindenwold just in time for our diocesan Respect Life Mass, hosted at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Gospel passage selected for the Mass was Matthew’s Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,” Jesus tells his followers. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

As risky as faith can be, Christ reminds us that he is with us always. There’s no finer solace – and no finer call to action – than that.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.

Three Tips for Introducing Christmas to Kids: Story, Simplicity, Sharing

Recently, my sister-in-law texted me a photo of my niece, who’s 18 months old, covering her gaping mouth in pure wonder at the sight of a chintzy Christmas-light display in a big-box store. It reminded me of the uniquely wonderful time of year this is for young kids.

But you don’t have to watch TV for more than a minute these days to be reminded that our culture’s focus on buying and getting stuff can undermine Christmas’ meaning. Here are three other S-words that might be good to keep in mind while introducing Christmas to toddlers: story, simplicity, and sharing.


In the wonderful “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, Charlie Brown, frustrated by the commercialism of the season, wonders, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus knows, and he stands in front of the gang and recites from Luke’s nativity story. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

There are few stories more awesome and meaningful. As a family, spend some time with the Christmas story – and take advantage of the great tangible symbols of the season, like an Advent wreath and a kid-friendly, hands-on nativity scene.


The photo of my niece reminded me that it doesn’t take much to excite a little one! Here’s another example of this truth: Over Thanksgiving weekend, family friends with two kids – two years and five months old – stayed with my wife and me for a couple days. The two year-old’s current favorite activity involves crayons. She doesn’t color with them, though. She just removes the paper, bit by bit, and throws it away. That’s it. On Christmas, I imagine she’ll enjoy playing with the box a toy comes in more than the toy itself.

In an article I read recently, blogger Joshua Becker described his family’s Christmas gift-exchange practice. He and his wife give their children three gifts: one thing they want, one thing they need, and an experience to share with the family. By establishing those expectations early, their kids aren’t disappointed at this seemingly small pile under the tree, and it has allowed them to shift their focus from stuff to friends, family, and faith.


Back to Charlie Brown and Peanuts for a second. In a classic strip, Violet approaches Charlie Brown with a piece of paper in hand. “This is my ‘git’ list, Charlie Brown,” she says. “These are all the things I figure I’m gonna ‘git’ for Christmas from my two grampas and two grammas and eight uncles and aunts!”

Charlie Brown replies, “Where’s your ‘give’ list?”

“My what?” asks Violet,

“I knew it!” harrumphs Charlie Brown as he walks away.

Violet has no conception of giving, but it’s probably not her fault. Her doting, well-minded family sees her as a recipient with nothing to contribute herself. But Christmas is a great time to work on building habits of generosity and thoughtfulness. Participate in a food drive together (dropping cans in a box is always fun), or make some homemade Christmas cards for loved ones.

With the three S’s of story, simplicity, and sharing, you can help young children learn what Christmas is all about.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.

Social Justice and the New Evangelization: Perfect Partners

When I was invited to speak at a parish recently, I shared a story that my predecessor in Life & Justice Ministries, the late Larry DiPaul, loved to tell.

At the end of a family gathering years ago, Larry packed up some leftover lasagna in a Tupperware container to take home. Larry was a prolific coffee drinker, and he stopped at a 711 he often frequented on the drive back from his family’s house.

Outside the store, he saw a guy he called “711 Sam,” a homeless man who was almost always hanging out there. Larry had chatted with him in passing occasionally, and paused to talk on his way back to the car.

“How’s it going, Sam?” Larry asked.

“Not bad, Larry, not bad,” Sam replied. “But I’m pretty hungry tonight.”

A light bulb went off in Larry’s head.

“Hey, I’ve got some lasagna in my car. Would you like it?”

“Oh, sure, thank you, Brother Larry.”

Larry walked over to his car, grabbed the lasagna, and brought it back to Sam.

“Hold on just a second,” Sam said. He walked into the 711 and returned a moment later with two knives and two forks.

Larry didn’t understand.  “Why do you have two, Sam?” he asked. “Do you have a friend around?”

Sam held out one set to Larry.

“A meal goes a much longer way when you have someone to share it with,” Sam said.

And so they sat together on the curb and ate the lasagna together.

The phrase “social justice” means a lot of different things, depending on the context. From a Catholic perspective, one of my favorite definitions of the term is right relationship. Social justice is all about building relationships between people that reflect God’s dream for us – relationships marked by mercy, compassion, and mutual kinship.

Sam taught Larry an incredible lesson about right relationship that night outside the 711. At first, Larry saw Sam as a recipient of Larry’s own generosity. It was a one-way relationship: the giver and the receiver. Then, Sam’s surprising gesture shook Larry up and fundamentally altered their relationship. Sam and Larry became companions – a word that literally means those who break bread together.

Of course, social justice also includes political work to change the social structures that permit evils like poverty, hunger, abortion, and so many more. But as a priest friend of mine likes to say, “You can’t work to end poverty if you don’t know any poor people.”

Right relationship is also at the core of what the Church has termed “the New Evangelization,” which is an ongoing process that calls Catholics to share the Good News with new vigor in a world where so many are searching for meaning. The New Evangelization is all about deepening our relationship with Christ as friend and savior and deepening the relationships we build with one another as Church. This shared emphasis on relationship makes social justice work and the New Evangelization natural partners.


For those in the Camden area…

The role of social justice ministry within the New Evangelization is the topic of two presentations Dr. Jonathan Reyes will lead here in the Diocese of Camden on Tuesday, December 9. He will explore how these two ministry priorities inform and encourage each other. A gifted teacher, Dr. Reyes is the executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Join us for either free event to reflect on how we, as individuals and as faith communities, can more effectively proclaim Christ’s Gospel of justice and love.

Dr. Reyes will lead two sessions on Tuesday, December 9: 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm primarily for parish staffs and volunteers, and 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm for a general audience. Both sessions will be held at Church of the Holy Family’s Aquin Center (226 Hurffville Rd, Sewell, NJ 08080). Admission is free. To register or for more information, please contact Norma Guzman at 856.583.6170 or

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.

Called to Love All Life

Daniel Hoover and Martha Jordan are the keynote speakers at this year’s Diocese of Camden Respect Life Leaders Gathering on Saturday, October 18 at St. Charles Borromeo in Sicklerville. By then, they’ll be married! (Yes, to each other!) The gathering, Called to Love All Life, will bring together current and aspiring leaders in the pro-life movement from the diocese’s parishes and schools.

Below is a quick interview with Daniel and Martha, but first here are their backgrounds:

Daniel grew up in Grass Lake, Michigan.  He attended Michigan State University where he studied religion and philosophy before getting his Masters of Theology from the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program.  He is currently the pastoral associate of St. Mary Magdalen school and parish in Wilmington, Del.

Martha grew up in South Jersey, and was a long-time parishioner at the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit (Holy Name of Jesus Parish). She received a Bachelor’s degree in Theology, with a minor in Human Life Studies, from Franciscan University of Steubenville.  After college, Martha worked with organizations such as Generation Life and FOCUS as a campus missionary at Boston University. Martha now works at the Catholic Leadership Institute in Wayne, Penn., where Church leaders receive world-class leadership training, following the example of leadership made known to us through Jesus Christ.

The title of the gathering is “Called to Love All Life.” Love is a word we throw around a lot. What do you think love for all life, especially the vulnerable, entails?

Daniel: For a long time I have been fascinated by the term “true love.” I think that title is used because so many times what is called “love” is actually insincere and self-serving. Love for all life, if it is true love, results in us loving other’s as Christ loved them. Christ’s love is an aching, desperate, compassionate, self-less love. His love drove Him to willingly die for us. Mother Teresa said we should “love until it hurts” and I think that in many different forms, that is what love for all life entails, loving until it hurts us. Also, not ignoring injustice in the world.

Martha: When I think of loving on a daily basis, I think of how I can love in simple ways – through gestures, a smile, a hello, etc. It is not always easy to love the people you live with, or work with, and I think loving people in your daily life, as well as the most vulnerable, requires an open heart, and the recognition that all people you meet are a mystery to you. All who are vulnerable have a story that we don’t know about.  Loving the vulnerable requires the recognition that each person involved is a gift waiting to be received in love.

Who is a person in your own life (famous or not-so-famous) whose example of love in action has inspired you? Why?

Daniel: Maybe it is cliche but I have been really moved by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Reading the book of her personal letters (Come Be My Light) I saw how everything she did was inspired by her love of Jesus. Unfortunately, I think often our motives are often less pure, even if we don’t realize it.

Martha: I have a friend whose love for all people is expressed so clearly whenever she interacts with another. She allows all of the details of a conversation to be important so that love might be shown. When she speaks her tone is loving, kind and sweet, her demeanor is pleasant, she smiles, and her body language is open. She communicates with people with great intentionality because of the love she has in her heart for Christ and His people. It inspires me because it is so uncommon today to take the time to look, listen, and speak to each person as though he/she were the most important, and yet — it is in these actions — in this love, that the hearts of people are moved to believe in Christ, in love.

Pick a favorite Scripture passage that is important to you when reflecting on our call to protect the dignity vulnerable — especially the unborn.

Daniel: There is also a passage from a document called the Didache from around the year 100 A.D. that is believed to be the recorded teachings of the Apostles and it says for Christians to be against abortion.  The fact that we have protected the unborn for 1,900 years is so beautiful to me.

Martha: John 8 – The story of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus has come to protect us and save us, to bring each of us into union with Him.

For those interested in attending the event:

Besides Daniel and Martha’s keynote address, the day will feature Mass and communal prayer, breakfast and lunch, topical breakout sessions, and networking time with dozens of respect life leaders from faith communities all over the diocese. You can register for the event by clicking here, or email for more information. All are welcome!

This interview is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.

Prison Ministry Today: An Interview with Sr. Mary Lou Lafferty

Sr. Mary Lou Lafferty, OSF, the Prison Ministry Coordinator for the Diocese of Camden, took the time to answer five questions about her ministry. To learn more about her, check out this great interview from the National Catholic Reporter. To get involved in prison ministry, visit this diocesan website.

Why do you think the Church is called to be engaged in prison ministry?

A greater awareness of the injustice in our penal institutions is reaching high proportions due to social media outlets.  In turn, the sensitivity by the Church is heightened and the need to minister to this population is gaining strength.

Being a Franciscan, I often call to mind Francis of Assisi’s own conversion while imprisoned. During his incarceration, the emptiness of his youthful years became clear and a personal transformation took place.  This was the beginning of Francis’ outreach to all peoples … the poor, the lepers, the outcasts …

This same outreach is the challenge that Pope Francis gives to each of us.  How can we bring the Good News to our brothers and sisters in our jails and prisons?  How can we be instruments of Jesus’ love, mercy and forgiveness?  His promise to be with us always, in good times and not so good, should be a source of strength and peace that needs to permeate all ministries of the Church.

We live in a society that is about retribution and revenge.  Just watch the nightly news!  How can we assist in reconciling incarcerated men, women and children with themselves, their God and the members of society?  As a faith community, we need to be about restoration and reconciliation, affirming the God-given dignity in each person we encounter.

How would you describe the purpose of the ministry to someone who had never thought about it before?

The purpose of the ministry is often threefold – provide spiritual opportunities for the incarcerated that influence the rehabilitation process; reduce fear and restore a sense of security in the community; and extend a consciousness of understanding, compassion and healing to the victims.  We are progressing fairly well with programs and religious services to the imprisoned; however, there is a great need for outreach to members of the community and the victims/victims’ families.

Do you have any stories from your time in the ministry that have inspired you?

In general, the selflessness of the volunteers never ceases to amaze me.  The majority of these men and women have other commitments to family, work and themselves. But their availability, when needed, is commendable.  Each one, without exception, has shared with me how his/her life has changed since beginning this ministry to the incarcerated.  They give of themselves so freely!

However, there is one story that has touched my heart: Early on, I received a letter with a check enclosed to be sent to a specified local parish as his monthly tithing.*  This was not his former parish, rather, it is the parish of the victim (a staff member) whom he killed in a drug-related car accident.  It was his small way of making amends to all those whose lives in the parish were touched by this horrific incident – the loss of a beloved staff member by his act of selfishness.  As Pope Francis says – “Who are we to judge?”

*Working for $.25 an hour is how he is able to accumulate money for his monthly tithing.

What challenging social issues connected to our criminal justice system have you learned about since starting your ministry?

All Catholic social teaching begins with the fundamental principle of the defense of human life and dignity.  From our earliest learning, we were made aware that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God with dignity, value and worth, regardless of race, creed, gender, nationality, class or any other human characteristics.

So how can we supplement the penal system to provide justice to these inmates?  They are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, personal safety, timely medical care, as well as opportunities for work and education in order to maintain their human dignity.  “…none of us is the sum total of the worst act we have committed … As a people of faith, we believe that grace can transform even the most hardened and cruel human beings.”  (See Origins 29:17 – pp. 261-266.)

The Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable is also a principle of Catholic social teaching to which I have always had a deep commitment.  However, to look at this principle through the eyes of those affected by the lack of adequate resources from early life – children who are hungry, abused (mentally, emotionally, physically), homeless etc. – often end up living lives of crime due to the impact of their upbringing.

Serving here in Camden, one of the most dangerous cities in the US and claiming the highest violent crime rate in the State of New Jersey, I am aware that more than ever of the necessity for the presence of the Church in prison ministry to address the basics of the people through pastoral care, advocacy and charity, as well as those affected by these conditions. This is a mandate for the Church given in Matthew 25 … for the incarcerated, their families and their victims.

How can parishioners here in the diocese get involved in prison ministry efforts? Are there multiple ways for them to serve?

There are many opportunities for parishioners in the diocese to get involved.  Some people may be open to give direct service, while others may prefer to minister outside the jail/prison.

For the first group, after becoming approved for a particular institution, the following are areas that need assistance: sacramental preparation, scripture reflection, Bible study, small group facilitation, values discussion and mentoring, to name a few.

For those who would prefer indirect service, possibilities are prayer ministry, making rosary beads, victim support, legislative advocacy and letter writing. The qualification are simple … Anyone who can see God in the faces of the women/men whom he/she would encounter and has an open, non-judgmental posture would be a candidate for prison ministry.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries. To get involved in prison ministry for the Diocese of Camden, visit this diocesan website.