Image: Prisoners Week

18th - 25th November 2018

To mark Prisoners week, Hugh Foy writes our latest blog reflecting on his missionary work inside Scottish Prisons.

Pope Francis, from very early in his pontificate, identified an important witness in his travels: wherever he goes and whenever he can he visits a prison. He describes the importance of prison ministry as a fundamental aspect of Christian witness in today’s world.

He has criticized prison systems that work only to punish and humiliate prisoners, and has denounced life prison terms and isolation as forms of torture. He believes that the contribution we can continue to make as Christians is to advocate for justice reform and hold fast to a commitment to rehabilitation as a counter to simplistic notions of punishment and, even worse, societal revenge.

He clearly reiterates the best of Catholic Social Teaching by reminding us that those sentenced to prison are meant to lose their freedom not their dignity, whilst they make amends to their victims and the wider society for their crimes.

It is now Prisoner’s Week. As a community of priests and lay missionaries, the Xaverians work inside Scottish prisons, working collaboratively with Catholic prison chaplains, and in ecumenical collaboration with our brothers and sisters from the Reformed traditions. We deliver spirituality programmes and retreats for prisoners and pilot training for Catholic lay volunteers.

It is a profoundly humbling experience. Beyond the joy of working with the unsung sheroes and heroes who make up prison chaplaincy teams, we have encountered men and women prisoners desperately seeking to put their lives ‘back in order’.

The vast majority of prisoners - or perhaps we should refer to them as ‘recovering citizens’ whom we encounter in jail - have lived with mental health issues, addiction, and extreme poverty: more often than not all three. Naming their reality is not to condone their behaviour. In fact, in our experience these men and women are the first to admit their crimes and sins. Often the challenge is to help them to journey back to a relationship with God that allows them to be healed, and through God’s mercy to reach a place in which they can reclaim their dignity as a child of God.

I believe the Church could in many ways nurture prisoner, victim, and the common good. Many prisoners would like the opportunity to make amends to their victims, but the opportunities for this inside the current criminal justice system are minimal.

This is a complex process to facilitate, and where the victim agrees and can be kept safe, international evidence indicates it is a deeply powerful experience of healing for all involved. This process also contributes effectively to reducing levels of recidivism.

I also believe restorative justice is rooted in the best tradition of Gospel Non-Violence, offering a return to a more humane and just solution to the pains and scars caused by crime and sin for victims, perpetrators of crime and the wider community. It is a Gospel inspired process that as a Church we should support, advocate and create the space to serve in, as part of the wider healing ministry of the Church moving forward.

This Prisoners Week in 2018, please pray for victims, men and women in jail, and all those who minister and work in the criminal justice system, as we remember the words of the holy father Pope Francis “Christ comes to save us from the lie that no one can change”.

Hugh Foy is Director of Programmes and Partnerships for the UK Province of the Xaverian Missionaries he can be contacted at and on twitter at @hughfoy

Image: Glacier melting and climate change - the Alps losing face


This time, in our blog, our friend, Wolfgang, from Switzerland's Justice and Peace Commission tells of his fears for the Alps as climate change takes hold in Switzerland. 

Switzerland is proud of its glaciers. With their enormous ice masses, they shape the Alps. The Alps without glaciers are hardly imaginable. In Grindelwald there is even a campsite called "Gletscherdorf" (glacier village).

 But one cannot see a glacier from Gletscherdorf anymore - because the ice masses are melting so rapidly.

In the last 40 years, glacier surfaces have shrunk by about a third. If you, like me, like to go into the mountains and take high-alpine tours, the changes are obvious.

It is sad to see that of the formerly almost inexhaustible ice masses that nature has produced, sometimes only a small miserable remnant is left. Where a few years ago there was ice, today the bare rock lies in front of you. Visitors to the Rhonegletscher (Rhone glacier) in the back-most Valais almost have to search for the glacier, so far has it retreated.

The Konkordiahütte, an alpine hut belonging to the Swiss Alpine Club, not far from the world-famous Jungfraujoch, can only be reached from the glacier surface via a ladder about 150 meters long.

The glaciers are melting. That is clear.

Scientists tell us that these are the effects of climate change. As a result, there will be no more glaciers in the Alps towards the end of this century. In addition to the loss of a unique mountain landscape of rock and ice, this creates further problems. When the permafrost thaws in the heights, the rock loosens and increasingly, rock-falls are to be expected. On August 23, 2017, the Piz Cengalo (3369 m above sea level) suffered the biggest landslide in Graubünden. Part of the village of Bondo was destroyed and eight people lost their lives.

Climate change literally sets the mountains in motion. And all this is happening faster than we could have imagined just a few years ago.

The glaciers as water reservoirs will then no longer exist. In dry summers in particular, glacier water is likely to be lacking. In Switzerland, that means not only a problem for the production of electricity from hydroelectric power stations, but also for agriculture. Operators of hydroelectric power plants and agriculturists already have had to adapt to these rapid changes. Switzerland's river and lake landscapes, as well as the fauna/wildlife they contain, are also likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Everything starts to move with the melting of the glaciers. Cold and warm periods have alternated in the history of the earth. But never before has this change taken place so quickly as it has today. Scientists agree that the main reason for this is the rapid increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere caused by the combustion of coal, gas, petrol, kerosene and crude oil.

We must act so that our children too can still experience the Alps characterised by the enormous masses of ice. In Paris, the states promised to limit global warming to 1.5°C. However, the implementation of important measures to this end has been hesitant. In "Laudato sì" Pope Francis pointed out to us that melting glaciers, rising sea levels and hurricanes affect the poor the most. Climate change is thus also becoming a question of global justice.

Wolfgang Bürgstein
Secretary General Justitia et Pax Switzerland



This week in our blog, Alex Holmes updates us on his most recent trip to Calais and the work being done at Catholic Worker House to help destitute refugees.

Hospitality: “the act and practice of being hospitable; the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers; liberality and goodwill” (Oxford English Dictionary). The etymological root of the word hospitality is the Latin hospes, meaning guest, host and stranger.

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13,2
The Giftbearers
extraordinary ones
stretching deep off script
along subterranean routes
of duress and hope
traded across continents
as things of slab flesh
then tossed away
by someothers’ soiled hands
onto somewhere’s stony shores
arrive still breathful
bearing beautiful dreams
bearing bones
bearing gifts
beyond price.
can only guess
Day time. Maria Skobtsova House, Calais*. The front door bell rings, an unsettling sound, always, like the clock that chimes thirteen.

“In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” quickening towards the door with those thirteen quietening syllables, tracing the sign of the cross.

“Welcome back, Robbel, I am so happy you are safe.” An embrace. Such cold small ears. Winter's chill is still in the air.

Or a request: “I'm so tired can I sleep the night?”

Of course, welcome.

Or one hand clutching a head wound, the other a discharge paper from the hospital.

Yes come in.

Or four people asking for a shower: “I’m sorry, we cannot offer showers today, the house is too full.”

The pain of saying “No” feels like an act of violence.

Adonay, Josef and Haile are at the door. They’ve come to spend the night after their friend Samuel, just a month in Calais, has been killed, hit by a car as he jumped from a lorry. Tomorrow, to the mortuary in Lille to pay respects to Samuel’s body.
Massawa presses the doorbell. He’s come to shower and have his clothes washed before visiting Teodros, his friend in hospital who is now paralysed from the neck down after being shot by a people smuggler.

“Welcome Massawa.”

Tomorrow he will see the words above his friend’s bed: “Teodros, everything happens for your own good”.
Boundaries: “A boundary is a line drawn that defines and establishes identity. All within the circumscription of that line makes up a whole, an entity. Neither good nor bad in its own right, a boundary determines something that can be pointed to and named: a person, a family, a geographical region, a city, a town, a nation, a parish church, a denomination, a faith. A boundary provides essential limits, for what is not limited, bounded, merges with its context and ceases to exist in its own particular way” (Canon Caroline A. Westerhoff).

But who do we allow to cross these boundaries, to enter our countries, enter our homes, enter our personal space?
Night time, probing the darkness under the pine trees. The moon has yet to rise. Emerging from the trees, the path towards the bridge under which ninety or so Eritrean refugees spend the night becomes clearer, foot-flattened earth through black grasses. The thunder-drum of lorries powering along the artery road from the port creates a pervasive sound wall.

“Salam, welcome.”

Issac beckons. “It’s draar, dinner time, eat with us.” We gather, ten of us, cross-legged in a circle in the low space just beneath the undersurface of the road bridge. A container with rice and beans is placed in the middle, spoons are passed around. First we pray and then eat. Isaac smiles.

“Yes life is hard, but it can be good, like now, and everyone smiles. We can smile because we know everything passes.”

“Bruq leyti, goodnight.”

There are many hands to shake. The way back is clear. Yarrow, the last of summer’s flowers, is caught in the moonlight.
*Maria Skobtsova Catholic Worker House, Calais: ‘Our mission is to be prayerfully present with and amongst the refugees, migrants and poor; and to build with them a community of hospitality’.

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