A liberating pastoral experience through prison ministry in Spain

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Prisoners, incarcerated, deprived of liberty, criminals, guilty, perpetrators… In many ways, they are called the recipients of penitentiary ministry: We only call them “brothers,” and when we talk about them, “closed brothers.” The Lord says in Matthew 25, 36: “I was in prison, and you came to see me.” This is what we do from the Penitentiary Pastoral: visit the suffering Christ in the locked brother.

We are extremely lucky to be able to attend to a forgotten and truly abandoned reality. Many of these brothers do not even have their family to visit them. The only visit they receive is from the Penitentiary Pastoral Centre. A visit that comes at a key moment in their lives: when they have hit rock bottom, when the only thing they have left is the Lord who suffers condemnation at their side, who neither in the darkest hour nor in the most absolute loneliness of the cell releases them from his hand.

The Redemptorist community of Valencia, which lives in the Nazareth neighbourhood, is a very significant community in Spain because it is immersed in social realities that require constant commitment. This community runs a school in this area on the outskirts of Valencia, serves women in the context of prostitution and exclusion in the neighbourhood, but above all, is committed to Penitentiary pastoral care. We Redemptorists carry out this work in collaboration with different charisms that care for the imprisoned brothers. Furthermore, in special moments, we have the participation of young people from the Redemptorist Vocational Youth Ministry, such as during Holy Week with a Social Easter or a social mission field in the summer.

Pastoral care in this context of the Penitentiary Center has to adapt. A pastoral ministry cannot be proposed as in the parish or the sanctuary because there are many restrictions on materials, spaces, and even people with whom to form groups. The “locked-in brothers” are separated by modules. Some modules cannot be joined with others. For any activity you want to do, you need to prepare an order for those responsible for security to sign it. As I explain to the volunteers who collaborate with us: “In prison, everything goes slower.”

Thank God we have a great team of volunteers who dedicate their time and prayer to the brothers deprived of liberty, rehearse with the choir for the Eucharist, give them catechism, and hold cinema forums or reading clubs. Any excuse is good to be able to be with our brothers because, in truth, that is what we want to do. And what a great blessing it is to be able to be with people in whom you see the suffering face of Christ, how wonderful it is to do what the Redeemer asks of us and to be able to say: “you were in prison, and we came to see you.”

Fr. Álvaro Ortiz Jiménez de Cisneros, C.Ss.R.
Chaplain of the Picassent Penitentiary Center – Redemptorist Missionaries of Valencia