Cardinal Vincent joined prisoners at HMP Wormwood Scrubs on 19th January in a Synodal Pathway listening session. The Cardinal, who is President of the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact), told the prisoners that he particularly wanted ‘to listen to those who can often be forgotten’.
While it remains a difficult time for prisons as they work hard to mitigate the risks of COVID-19, the visit was an important one for the many prisoners who rely on faith and parish relationships to lead more positive lives following release. The Synod listening exercise is one way of enabling their participation in the life of the Church.
Some of the prisoners spoke about how important family and parish connections are, and the hope that these relationships can offer them while they are inside. The Cardinal said that a key message for him from this session is that prisoners appreciate being acknowledged by parishes and they would value being invited back to those communities when possible.
Catholic Chaplain Fr Chima Ibekwe, who worked closely with prison staff and the Pact team to arrange the visit, said: ‘Everyone here at Wormwood Scrubs embraced the Cardinal’s visit. The lads were so pleased that he sat with them. The support from not just the multi-faith chaplaincy but all the staff, including those with no religious faith, has touched my heart. We all worked together to make the visit a success.’
The Cardinal also made time to speak at some length with prison staff over sandwiches. Pact staff and volunteers welcomed the Cardinal in the prison Visitors’ Centre, operated by the charity and home to the its FamilySpace initiative, which supports families across London affected by the imprisonment of a close family member.
On behalf of Pact and the prison, Father Chima presented the Cardinal with a memento of an image with the words from Matthew’s Gospel: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’.
The visit was facilitated by Pact, and supported by the prison’s Acting Governor Dom Ceglowski and Fr Chima Ibekwe.
Pact is an independent national charity that provides support to prisoners, people with convictions, and their families. Founded in 1898 as the Catholic Prisoners’ Aid Society, it works at the intersection of criminal justice, child and family welfare, and mental health and wellbeing, to support people to make a fresh start and minimise the harm that can be caused by imprisonment to people who have committed offences, to families and to communities.
Pact’s Faith in Action team provides assistance to parishes to help them become places where prisoners, people with convictions and their families can feel known and loved. More information is available by emailing email@example.com.
Photo: Andy Aitchison