Great article from the New York Times about the Holy Father and prisoners at Sing Sing.
OSSINING, N.Y. — Inside a cool, rugged chapel of tan brick and brown benches, the Rev. Tom Ahearn read a passage about repentance from the Gospel of St. Mark. “A voice of one that cries in the desert,” Father Ahearn said. “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”
The congregants nodded in recognition. The reading was anything but abstract: The men in the pews were convicted felons serving time at Sing Sing prison. Inside the chapel — fittingly named for Our Lady of Hope — their voices were strong, rising above the laughter of men joking after dinner or the rumble of Metro-North trains speeding past, just outside the thick walls ringed with coils of razor wire.
The faithful gather there for Mass and Bible study. Yet this particular service, during the Advent season of hope for a weary world, was extra special. A drawing by one of the inmates had been presented to Pope Francis who, in turn, sent a rosary, blessed holy cards and a promise to keep them in his prayers.
Denis Martinez, 30, who has spent 11 years behind bars for a shooting, seemed dazed. It was his drawing — of the three crucifixes on Calvary reflected in an eye — that was given to Pope Francis. His own faith, he admitted, is sometimes shaky. But like many of the inmates who come to the chapel, he still feels great affection for the pope.
“I can’t believe one of my drawings was given to the pope, while I’m here, trapped,” he said. “His message is one I believe in, one of social justice. Those of us who’ve been on the floor, like I’ve been on the bottom, we know about struggle.”
The unlikely exchange of gifts and prayers was the result of an idea that came to Betty Woodward, a former public relations executive in New York who started volunteering at Sing Sing seven years ago. She had often talked to the men about Pope Francis and how he was shaking up the Vatican.