Ministry and mercy on Christmas Eve
SALTERS—Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone went behind prison walls on Christmas Eve to celebrate Mass for inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Williamsburg.
About 30 men attended the first liturgy at 9:30 a.m. in the main facility, and another 14 turned out at 11 a.m. at the minimum-security satellite camp.
The bishop has pledged to celebrate Mass each Christmas and Easter at a correctional facility in South Carolina because prisoners are too often forgotten by the rest of society and are in need of God’s mercy. He visited Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville during Christmas 2009.
Father Mathew Y. Bulala, administrator of St. Ann Church in Kingstree, and Deacon J. Wescoat Sandlin from St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville assisted the bishop.
Bishop Guglielmone and Father Bulala also heard inmates’ confessions.
In his homily, the prelate described Christmas as a time to focus on God’s precious gift of his son, and the hope and salvation only Jesus can offer. He asked the inmates to reflect on the miracle of Jesus becoming human and experiencing the same joys and sufferings as they do.
“At Christmas, God comes to us,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “Jesus, born as a human being, is a sign we don’t have to do it alone. God comes to us to bring us home.”
He urged them to find peace and happiness in the Gospel, even though they could not be with family and friends.
“Sometimes it’s hard to realize how close God is,” he said. “You’ve got some real difficulties you’re going through, and you’re experiencing a limitation of freedom, but God is right here, right inside of you. You have to be willing to allow Him to give you grace … All of us find ourselves in situations where it is tempting to give up on God, but it’s important to realize that He will never give up on you.”
After both Masses, Bishop Guglielmone led the men in singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” A group of inmates sang “Silent Night” in Spanish.
John R. Owen, the warden, is a Catholic and helped organize the visit. He said the number of the faithful, many of whom are Hispanic, has increased in recent years.
José Campos leads a group of Catholic inmates who gather regularly to pray and read Scripture.
“It’s very important to me that the bishop came to visit us, because we don’t get many people like this here,” Campos said. “For me, he is the successor of the apostles, and he brings the image of the Lord to us.”
The bishop told the inmates he would pray for them, and asked them to do the same for him.
“I hope the men got the sense of the presence of Christ, and a sense of hope in their lives no matter where they find themselves,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “It’s important for them to know that somebody cares about them.”