One of the most famous bishops in America — maybe the most famous? — marked Lent with a visit to a local prison.
From a Staten Island website:
The modest chapel at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility in Charleston is a daily source of comfort and redemption for dozens of the prison’s 950 inmates. Today, its grace and sanctity took on added meaning as Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, spiritual leader of Catholics in 405 parishes in the southern region of the state of New York, visited to celebrate mass during the Lenten season.
Some 75 inmates packed the room, and according to one, perhaps 15 others were turned away.
According to the medium-security state facility’s Superintendent, Dennis Breslin, those who faithfully attend mass were the primary target audience.
Those who made the cut spoke of the Archbishop and finding God in reverential tones.
Former Manhattan resident Pedro Robles, who’s been incarcerated for 13 years on a conviction of murder, said he attends mass “all the time.” He said formal services are held Sunday and Tuesday; a Bible study class meets on Monday and “a special movie is screened on Wednesday.”
Paul Vittoriosa of Huguenot, in year two of a five-year sentence on a burglary conviction, called the day “special.”
“He takes time out of his day to come to us,” he explained.
Inmate Kevin White who sang a song to the Archbishop titled “Beacon of Light,” in which he told Dolan “Every time I pray, I think of you,” said, “I was in awe.” He called the experience of standing and singing before the leader of the Catholic church in this region of New York “extremely motivating and spiritual.”
Inmate Mark Teson began the proceedings with a reading about lepers from the Second Book of Kings. Fellow inmate Louis Gelsiomino, who has discovered a love of singing since his incarceration several years ago, performed “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
For his part, Dolan described the inmates as “an inspiration” to him. “A lot of people come see me. You couldn’t do that, so I came here.” He reminded those gathered that “two prisoners were with Jesus on the cross. He turned to one of them and said, ‘This day, you’ll be with me in Paradise.’ ”
The Archbishop noted that the verses read by Teson about lepers are particularly apt for prison inmates because years ago, when the contagious disease was much more common, lepers were banished to deserted places, much as inmates are shut off from society.
“Jesus likes it when we admit we have problems and are sinners,” he said, noting that “all of us are sinners. We need mercy and healing that only Jesus can give.”