RAMLEH – On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis celebrated the liturgy in a prison, washing the feet of the prisoners. During Easter Week, the Prison Chaplaincy team had the privilege of celebrating the Good News with the Catholic prisoners in Ayalon Prison.
Ayalon Prison, a high security prison in Ramleh, has about a dozen long term Catholic prisoners. They are diverse in their origins and backgrounds: Arabs, Latin Americans, a North American, a South African, an Indian, an Eritrean… What unites them is their faith in Jesus Christ. They communicate in the only language they have in common: Hebrew.
The Prison Chaplaincy team of the Latin Patriarchate visits them regularly as it does the other prisons where there are Catholic prisoners. However, only twice a year can mass be celebrated: at Christmas and at Easter. All contact with the prison authorities is mediated by the Rabbi’s Office in the Prisons.
On Wednesday, April 3, 2013, members of the Prison Chaplaincy team made its way to Ramleh: three priests and two women religious. At the entrance to the prison, they were met by the rabbi of the Ayalon Prison, who welcomed them and checked all that they were carrying to facilitate the celebration of mass. Then, one by one they passed through the heavy security checks. Inside Ayalon, the prisoners slowly gathered, each one welcomed by warm hugs. These men are well known to the team and each of them carries a long history of suffering, trials and tribulation.
Mass began when all had gathered, the ten prisoners who could attend on this day and the five members of the team constituting this little church community within the walls of the prison. Father David, responsible for the Hebrew speaking Catholic communities in Israel and the Pastoral among the Migrants, celebrated the mass in Hebrew, concelebrated by Franciscan Father Daniel Mose, a regular at the Jerusalem kehilla. Father Carlos from Deir Rafat proclaimed the Gospel in Spanish which was then read in English and Arabic too.
The moment of the homily was a time for sharing as Father David posed the question: What does the fact that the tomb is empty mean in our everyday lives? Fathers Daniel and Carlos, Sisters Emmanuela and Susan shared their insights as did many of the prisoners, sharing profoundly on the Lord who goes out to the furthest extremities of the earth in search of the lost. The empty tomb preached and meditated upon in the midst of a high security prison? What can this mean for each one of us? A particularly intense moment was when one of the prisoners cried out his despair. His loneliness and his sense of abandonment were difficult to listen to and yet here he felt he could trust those present to help him carry his overwhelming burden of pain.
As the mass drew to a close, the proclamation that he is indeed risen was sung in Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and French. Christ is Risen, he has defeated death by death and bestowed life to those in the tombs! – Halleluiah!
By: Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel