For Michael, raised Catholic and now serving a three-year sentence in Camden County jail, faith is a must.
“It’s what gets us by in here, having faith. Your mind can overpower you with negativity if you don’t have faith. You have to make the best of a bad experience,” said the 30-year-old.
He has four more months left to serve.
That faith, he said, was given a “boost” Jan. 15 when Bishop Dennis Sullivan visited the Camden County Correctional Facility to celebrate Mass with inmates.
“For the bishop to come to us really meant a lot. He took time out of his day to be with us. It shows his love for us, but our appreciation is even greater. It was a very beautiful experience,” Christ said.
The bishop himself was surprised by the aptness of the daily Gospel reading. The Gospel from Mark told of the leper who approached Jesus and of Jesus’ healing touch, in spite of the cultural stigmas surrounding lepers during his time.
“Jesus identifies very clearly with this outcast, this person on the margins of society; a man who brings his misery and illness, his troubles to Jesus. Jesus enters into his world and makes him whole,” Bishop Sullivan said.
“Today — not tomorrow, not when you get out of jail — today, the Lord can do the same for you and for me. The lepers’ prayer is one you and I can pray today and every day,” Bishop Sullivan said. “‘If you wish, Lord, you can make me clean.’”
The bishop was joined at Mass by members of the prison ministry groups from Sacred Heart Parish in Camden and St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Gibbsboro who visit the prison weekly. The prison’s warden, captains and lieutenants, and members of the prison’s various ministries and counseling programs also attended.
“I watched the look on the inmates faces. They were so charmed by the bishop. The visit was deeply appreciated, by the staff, too,” said Warden David Owens Jr.
Bishop Sullivan; concelebrating priests Father Dennis Bajkowski of Sacred Heart Parish and Father Gerard Marable, pastor of St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in Camden; and Sister Mary Lou Lafferty, diocesan prison ministry coordinator, were presented with plaques by inmates, thanking them for their commitment to prison ministry. The priests say Mass at the facility four times a year.
An inmate named April was selected to present one of the plaques. She said she was nervous, but that prayer helped her through, as it always does.
“[Prayer] gives me strength when I’m not feeling strong. It gives me encouragement,” she said. “I said a little prayer before I gave the plaque: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”
In 2014 Bishop Sullivan celebrated Masses at South Woods State Prison, Salem County Jail and Fairton Federal Prison. He has visits scheduled throughout 2015 to the remaining facilities in the diocese. His next visit will take place at the end of January at the Atlantic County jail.
By the end of 2015, he will have visited and celebrated Mass in every facility in the diocese: one federal prison, three state prisons and six county jails.