Each year on the first Sunday of November, the Catholic Church in Australia marks Prison Sunday, bringing attention to the plight of prisoners and highlighting the important work that prison chaplains undertake.
CatholicCare Sydney’s Chaplaincy Services offers pastoral care to inmates, their families, and employees at Long Bay Correctional Centre, Silverwater Metropolitan Remand Centre, and Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre. Prison Chaplains stand in solidarity with those they visit. The service is inclusive and sees no boundaries, sitting with people of all faiths and those of little or no faith.
Prison Chaplain Fr Peter Carroll established the CatholicCare Sydney Community Chaplaincy Program, to ensure there was always someone to help those in prison to not feel alone or deserted.
“I was working in Redfern Parish and an aboriginal lady came and said to me, will you visit my daughter at Silverwater Women’s?"
Peter has been visiting men and women in prisons for more than twenty years and describes it as “finding ways of connecting people and building trust and supporting them in their struggles and their story and just the privilege that is”.
“This experience reinforced that when people move into an environment, which is a struggle or whether it's new or whatever, it awakens a spiritual desire.”
Prison Chaplains are also lay people, those who answer a call to provide a listening ear to those who are lonely or facing challenges.
“I try to be present, be there as someone who listens, do whatever I can at the moment,” says Prison Chaplain Margaret.
Margaret believes that being there as a chaplain, and not an employee of Corrective Services, helps the inmates to trust them and to understand the chaplain is not there to punish them but rather to listen and try to help.
“I’m privileged to be a Prison Chaplain; I have done it for many years, and it has helped me as well. It has helped me discover my true self, it touches my heart when they come to me and thank me for simply being there and listening.”
To mark Prison Sunday this year Fr Carroll has a message for others, “Come and work with me – as a volunteer, companioning others, or as a Chaplain. We need people who can relate to others and enjoy the immense sense of honour and pride that comes with supporting people through their struggles.”