Photographed above: Lebanon Correctional Facility, December 26, 2019, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr celebrated Christmas Mass with nearly 50 inmates. Accompanied by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Prison Ministry team who minister weekly to inmates.
Marty Arlinghaus, director of prison ministry shares his experiences in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The landscape of prison ministry has been changing by the day. Starting April 16th all prison chaplains across the state are required to work from home, which includes all contractors such as myself. Up until that point, I was still able to go into a couple of institutions to meet one-on-one with the men and women. I would talk with them about how they’re doing all while wearing masks and staying six feet apart from each other. Eventually, the conversation would turn to where they see God right now, how their prayer life is going, and how I can be praying for them.
Now, the institutions want us to provide religious materials for the inmates in place of visiting. I am working out what those can and will be and how they will be made available to the men and women. Normally, we would be able to bring in rosaries, teach Catholicism classes, and distribute pamphlets. Now, it looks like we will only be able to provide a one-page prayer and reflection sheet.
Difficulties are piling up. No in-person visits.
A couple of days ago I was at the women’s prison in Dayton and was able to meet with several of our Catholic women. Little did I know that would be the last time for the foreseeable future. From what I have heard from them, the difficulties are piling up. For instance, there are no in-person visits anymore including from family and video calls have been a struggle at times. Some of the prisons are on full or partial lockdown which restricts the movement of the prisoners even more and raises the levels of anxiety and tension among the inmates.
Holding onto Faith through it all.
But I am amazed at seeing them holding onto their faith. As much as I get asked by the inmates whether this is the end of the world, they also tell me they believe God is at work to call people back to Himself. They are eager to hear about the volunteers who used to come in and want me to extend greetings and prayers to them. I’m also regularly meeting virtually with my volunteers and they too are asking about the inmates that they usually minister to and extend their greetings and prayers to them through me. In that and other ways, the pandemic has shown me the reality of the Church as the mystical body of Christ.