Apostolate in the prison of Ghardaïa
The welcome from the authorities in Ghardaïa is very good and we have been well received. We met the Director, who made himself available to us to ensure that the prayer service was carried out in favourable conditions while respecting the rules of the prison.
Relations with the guards who allow us access to prisoners are also good, and with some even fraternal. We feel they trust us. The guards prepare a nice room for us to meet. Everyone is properly seated, and we can make a circle that helps everyone participate better.
There are four attitudes that we must always maintain: humility, following the instructions given, respect for those people who are in the different prison departments, and recognition.
The guards are respectful when they are in the room where we pray. They are very human. They took the handcuffs off a death-row inmate so that he could raise his hands to God in prayer. They allow us to take the telephone number of the families of the prisoners we visit to give them news.
The Word of God, and this time of prayer and personal encounter with God and Jesus Christ, allows everyone to find a path of freedom. A Word which makes them meet a God who loves them and knows each one of them by name, who does not judge them, but who comes to forgive and heal them. They love songs that flow from the bottom of their hearts. It is a grace to witness this.
For Christmas, we prepared a suitable prayer. Two years ago, we sent each of the 22 prisoners we visit a voucher for 1,500 DA, which they received. They were very happy with this small gesture. For Lent we prepared the celebration of the Stations of the Cross, well animated by Fr. Théophile. They felt they were walking this journey with Jesus, a man condemned to death… Seeing Simon help Jesus to carry the cross, they felt called to help each other to carry together their sometimes very heavy crosses. It was very touching to walk with Jesus, who gives his life out of love and even forgives those who hurt him. They kept the text of the Stations of the Cross: the triumph of Life! But at Easter we couldn’t go because of the coronavirus.
Our pastoral visit allows the prisoners who are in different parts of the prison to meet, to share their joys and their sorrows, to pray together, to share the hope that one day they too will be free and reunite with their families. What a joy to hear from their families! A woman wrote to her husband, “I still love you and I am waiting for you”. You had to see his transfigured face. These are moments of deep joy.
I participated in the meeting of the prison chaplains of the diocese. It was the first time that we shared at this level because before it was done at the national level in Algiers.
The way of proceeding changes in the different dioceses. One of our challenges is to train some of the Christian prisoners to lead the prayer when we are absent.
I thank the Lord for giving me the grace to do this pastoral ministry for our brothers in prison, a work of mercy, “I was in prison and you came to visit me”…to discover the presence of God in all who suffer.
Sr. Maria Angeles Yaniz, Ghardaïa cty (Algérie)