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Can you live hope behind bars?

 

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Marist life in Sullana

14/05/2018: Peru

Brother Bernardino Pascual Juárez tells us about the Marist experience lived in Sullana, Peru, by the Marist community of brothers and lay people of the Santa María de los Andes province, mainly the experience of Br Félix Saeta who visits the city prison of Piura, built to house 1,600 inmates. It houses 3,248 inmates, with extreme overcrowding.

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The chapter calls made to those who vibrate in the essential spirit of Marcellin Champagnat “to be with the voiceless and homeless,” “make visible the love of the Father on the margins of the world,” “approach the peripheries” have and emergent situations”, all, soaked in the spirit of how to bring our life together with the essence of Matthew 25: 36 ... of the Gospel and calls to serve in community.

I am a member of a community that has opened its soul, life and heart to be witnesses and bear witness to that chapter of the Gospel, which at the same time is a doorway to the heart of Jesus and a way out into the hearts of men that are included in those ...

“For I was in prison and you visited me… For I was ill and you cared for me…”

Why immerse our community life in these areas? Perhaps because the XXII Chapter has touched us because of the need to serve in spirit. On behalf of the community, surrounded by simplicity and enthusiasm, reflecting on his personal life and on what the Chapter has urged him to urgently incorporate his imperious calls, a Brother affirmed:

“I do not know if what I had already decided in my interior was taken by the Chapter or this has been arranged for me and for the community as a table of union and harmony with the merciful plan of the GOSPEL.”
I HAVE TO ASK THE QUESTION: CAN I LIVE HOPE BEHIND BARS?

“Approaching the peripheries and emerging situations”. Can there be a harder periphery than a prison?

Brother Félix Saeta y Gutiérrezhas been asked by our community to make an approach everyday with the intent to help us understand the reality that can be experienced, as he experiences it, to reach the encounter with the nobleness that each person has, even in these circumstances, to “make visible the Love of the Merciful Father on the margins of the world”.

Yes, every week he brings us news, in which he tells of his experiences, not only Christian, but very human. We wanted to express these experiences and benefits to the community and to those who read this reflection, asking some questions in order to join our feelings to his.

 

Br. Félix, visit a jail ¿what for?

Neither to judge nor to condemn or to investigate or to defend. Simply to show the inmates in the name of God their merciful love and to tell them in these dark moments: God is strength and hope!

 

Brother, describe what most resembles what you live: is it “human”, “inhuman”?

The bars are never human. It will depend on the concept that we have of the penitentiary centre; if we see it as a punishment, if we see it as a rehabilitation center or if we see it as a place where people who are dangerous to society must be saved. That is why all the treatments and conditions that they experience and that attempt against their dignity will always be inhuman no matter how great their crime has been. This is the language of the Gospel, which is very different from the visceral reaction of a large part of society that demands punishment and revenge. Twenty-four people cannot live in nine square metres.

 

Do you notice any changes in some people in the prison since your visits?
I do not know if it expresses friendship, change or reflection the fact that they wait for Thursdays – the day of my visit – with anticipation, that some tell you that it is the only visit that they have received in years, that they feel you are their friend and their brother, that they tell you that every day they pray for you, and that if you have some misfortune in the street you can count on them. If you are the only thing they have besides God, they are telling you that you cannot stop going to visit them. I have no expectations about results; here the statistics are not valid. I put the mystery of its depth and conversion into the hands of God. Sometimes they can surprise us like the good thief.

 

What is it, Br Félix, that makes you the happiest once you are inside the prison?

That they feel I am one of them, that they tell me their most intimate things, that they invite me to eat their menu, and that they express to me appreciation and affection. I am the only one who enters their maximum security pavilion on Thursdays.

 

The community has sent you. Do the inmates ask you how and with whom you live and why you visit them? What do you tell them, Brother?

Thank God, those of us who go on behalf of the Church as brothers or fathers always expect that. And in the case of Catholics, they differentiate us because they know that we are not going to proselytize. They have many more visits from Protestants than from Catholics. Evangelicals are more sectarian, but they still respect you when you go. They call you “padrecito” (“father” in an affectionate way) so as not to confuse you with Protestants. They ask you to pray for them. That you do not stop visiting them. That you communicate with their families and visit their children, wives, mothers etc. I always tell them that I am not the only one who prays for them. We are a community interested in their problems. What they ask me for the most is for a blessing and they give me their blessing.

 

Brother Félix, what do you contribute with your visits to the GOOD HOPE OF OUR LIFE PROJECT, telling us what you experience in the prison?

While they wait for the Saturday of glory, of leaving prison to rebuild their lives with hope, they are living their prolonged Good Friday for many years and waiting for Cireneos, like us, to make the load of their cross a little lighter. There is more to be done than to be planned, written or spoken. Let’s do it. They are waiting for us now. “I was in prison and they visited me.” “I was sick and they brought me the Lord, in the Eucharist.” You, my community, also have other peripheries: sick people, nursing homes. Come on, take them to God and to the Virgin, especially in this month of May.

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