By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Prison is definitely not a place anyone wants to be during the Christmas season. That in itself is an excellent reason why visitation, including Cardinal Justin Rigali’s annual visit to a local prison at Christmastide, is important.
“I’m very thankful to be part of this,” said Peter, an inmate and a lector at the Mass celebrated Dec. 23 at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville.
“In a place like this there is a lot of animosity between people, but there is peace today,” he added.
The Cardinal celebrated the Mass in a combination gym and meeting room before a congregation of about 150 male and female inmates and staff. His homily emphasized the positive.
“The angel said, ‘I come to proclaim good news to you, tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole world.’ This message has to be shared. It’s a message of the value of humanity. It is a message of your value, dear friends,” Cardinal Rigali said.
The value of humanity can’t be taken away from anyone, the Cardinal told the inmates, but it must be cultivated.
“It is a gift from God and requires your gratitude and respect, for the humanity of every other brother and sister,” he said.
William, another inmate, thought the Cardinal’s words might have been a revelation to some of the non-Catholics who attended.
“The homily was right on,” he said. “There are a lot of people who think that the Catholic Church doesn’t focus on Jesus and the homily proved the Catholic Church is based on Christ.”
The Montgomery County facility has about 1,700 inmates, including about 250 women. Some are pre-trial while others are serving sentences, according to Julio Algarin, the warden.
“For his Eminence to take time out from his busy schedule during the holiday season, to grant this Mass, on behalf of the inmates and staff I say it is very much appreciated,” he said.
“This is very much part of my Christmas,” Cardinal Rigali commented. “Jesus came to be the Savior of all of us. We praise God for sending His Son into the world to save us all from sin and lead us to God as a community in which we try to help one another, try to love and respect one another and try to serve one another.”
Concelebrating the Mass along with Cardinal Rigali were Vincentian Father Gregory Cozzubo, chaplain for prison ministry in the Archdiocese, and Msgr. Thomas Murray, pastor of Visitation Parish, Trooper, which provides ministry as well as Mass every Monday to the facility.
Also concelebrating were Father Edward Kelly, parochial vicar at Visitation and Msgr. Ignatius Murray, who is in residence at the parish.
In previous years Cardinal Rigali has celebrated pre-Christmas Masses at Bucks County Prison, Graterford Prison in Montgomery County, Riverside Correction Facility, Curran Fromhold Correction Facility and the Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center, all in Philadelphia.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.