St. Dismas Ministry

February 23, 2015

There is likely no other area related to poverty that has been generally overlooked by both the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and the public, than that of our prisons, inmates, ex-offenders and their families. There has always been a certain stigma attached to anyone who is or has been incarcerated. This stigma follows ex-offenders upon their release and can affect their efforts to re-enter society, find employment and attempt to repair relations within their own families.

There is a real need for the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul to address years of inaction and even indifference related to this ministry. While we have small groups of very dedicated members working within our prison system, there is so much more we can and should be doing, both through our charitable work and our social justice efforts. Prison ministry requires advocacy and systemic change in addition to our current works of charity and prison visitations.

Today, it would seem we are at a point in time where we can make positive changes in how we deal with this issue. Pope Francis has displayed his love for those in prisons. Both the USA and Canadian Bishops have strongly supported such action. Here in Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) have demonstrated their support as a founding member, along with our Society of the Catholic Connection in Restorative Justice. ( Please review appendix A for a review of how we can work with the CCinRJ.

What else can we do?

While there is certainly a need to advocate for reforms and changes in our current prison system, there is also an opportunity to address the root causes of poverty that many ex-offenders face upon release and those that their families may endure while a family member is still in prison.

St. Dismas-Who was he.
St. Dismas, also known as the Good thief, is the apocryphal name given to one of the two thieves who was crucified alongside Jesus. Dismas repented of his sins, and asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. According to the Gospel of Luke 23:39-43 the story of Dismas and Jesus is told as follows:
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you the Messiah. Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation. And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. 'He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. "

The formation of a St. Dismas conference or committee invites members to consider joining us in our efforts to address the many issues related to prison ministry. While prison visits continue to have an important role in this ministry, our work will focus on services to former inmates and their families.

Please reflect on this ministry and consider forming a St. Dismas conference or committee at your council level as we seek to find Jesus in the poor. We offer an opportunity for you to live your Catholic faith and develop a personal relationship to Jesus Christ as we seek and met Him in our friends and neighbours in need.

Features of a St. Dismas conference/committee
Charity Works

  1. Ministry of prayer
    This work provides members of the conference with a meaningful, low risk level of participation that serves as a direct spiritual support to individuals.

    Prayer friends
    Hold someone touched by crime in their daily prayers. These prayers may remember a current offender, an offender re-entering society and parents and spouses of those involved in the criminal justice system.

  2. Ministry of Works
    • Community dinner
      The community dinner is an opportunity to share a meal with those who have little or in some cases no family and to help build a sense of community.
    • Christmas Basket Program
      Christmas is both a special and difficult time of year depending on a person's circumstances. The Christmas basket program aims to help women on parole provide the basics for a Christmas celebration. The program also provides a Christmas package to men and women in halfway houses as a way to demonstrate to them that the community remembers them at this time of the year.

  3. Welcome Home Program
    This program aims to assist ex-offenders build a place they can call home after release. The Welcome Home program offers practical reintegration support as well as helping individuals and families feel they belong and have arrived home.

  4. Ministry of Friendship
    This ministry encourages the faithful to extend the hand of friendship and to get involved in a high degree of commitment with an ex-offender through fellowship and 'walking together'.
    It is anticipated that further training will be available to anyone choosing to enter this program.

  5. Friendly Home Visits
    Our long standing program of home visits can certainly be integral part of this ministry. It is during our visits that we are able to experience both the seeking and finding Christ in those we visit, as well receiving the love of Christ through our new friends. The home visit can also be used to introduce our other ministry programs to those in need.

Social Justice

  1. Second Chance Ministry
    This ministry is also one that requires a longer term and more personal commitment from those interested in being a part of it. The goals of this ministry are the following:

    • To provide immediate, practical, charitable help to those requesting assistance. (food, clothing, furniture, bus tickets, health issues such as dental work and eye glasses) The need for both spiritual and emotional support is also offered to the maximum of our ability.
    • To assist those in need through the bureaucracy they will face. This can include help with bankruptcies, evections, registrations, bill payments, appointments, etc. This requires a working knowledge of all agencies and the desire to work with them in order to benefit those we seek to help.
    • To mentor an individual or couple in order to lift them out the cycle of poverty and despair and away from the environments that led them into the criminal justice system. There is a need for a positive and supportive presence in their lives that gives them hope for the future by knowing that someone does care.

  2. Advocacy
    • Advocacy-We seek to find the root causes of the problems face by ex-offenders as they re-enter society. This work is done in order that we may understand the plight of our friends in need.
    • We also strive to find ways to give those we serve a voice and where needed, to speak with and for them.
    • This social justice aspect also means we try to educate our own membership, the Catholic population and the general public about the issues related to prison ministry.
    • We also seek to partner with the CCinRJ and CCCB in our efforts and act as the social justice arm of the restorative justice theme as it relates to our Catholic population. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has its network of parish based conferences and our long standing efforts of providing Christian charity to anyone in need. We are also blessed with a high level of respect amongst the Catholic faithful as well as other social agencies, which can only add to the success of our collaborative efforts.

If you are interested in joining us or learning more about us, please contact the following:
Jim Paddon. phone 519-397-9391
Or your council president.