Friends of Dismas – A Peace & Justice Ministry
The Friends of Dismas is a Peace & Justice Ministry operating out of St. Mary’s Catholic Campus Ministry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. It was formed in 2005 after I was invited to join a local Christian Jail/Prison Ministry called, “Preaching the Cross Ministries (PTCM).” It was clear to me that this ministry, like any other, required the participation and support of a variety of people, each with his or her own particular spiritual gifts, the chief of which was an active and fruitful prayer life nourished by regular participation in the sacraments. PTCM became ecumenical when several other Catholics and I became part of it.
Two to three times a month each of us takes a turn going into the Lightfoot County Jail (Nacogdoches) to share the Good News and our life experiences with the inmates. The male members minister to the male inmates and the female team members serve the female inmates. Through God’s grace we pray that we may speak words of conviction, encouragement, and healing that may cause the same conversion that we have experienced and continue to desire in our own lives. We also go to minister to some of “the least of these” because Jesus commands us to do so (among other forms of service) in Matt 25: 35-46. Also, visiting the imprisoned is one of the Church’s Corporal works of Mercy.
Although our resources are limited, we occasionally help newly released persons acquire bus tickets, employment, and housing to assist them as much as possible in successfully reintegrating into community life.
Perhaps a short explanation of Peace and Justice Ministry would be helpful. The training manual, “Building Parish Peace and Justice Groups” by Sean O’Leary and Zukile Tom, (page 12), provides useful information:
The vision of Justice and Peace ministry is inspired by God’s plan for the world and invites all Christians to action for a just transformation of our world. Justice and Peace works to bring about a world where all people can live as one loving family. Justice and Peace does this to help transform the world and so prepare the way for the kingdom of
God. The aims of Justice and Peace are: • To help individuals and groups be aware of the suffering, injustice,
divisions and violence in our society. • To raise awareness among people about the causes of suffering and
poverty, and recognize the social implications of faith. • To empower people to work for a more just society where
the basic human rights of all people for food, water, shelter, education, employment, health, and political and civil
participation are respected. • To assist the Church in preaching and promoting action for Justice and Peace in
support of the poor, marginalized, disadvantaged and oppressed.
The issues addressed run the gamut from hunger, abortion, violence, affordable housing, war, voting rights, environment, refugees, immigration, Christian persecution, human trafficking, and support for the elderly, victim’s rights, incarceration and rehabilitation, to name a few. Some of the components of ministries addressing these issues include but are not limited to: legislative advocacy, direct action, and education. To further clarify, social action means meeting an immediate need by performing the works of mercy. Social justice involves addressing the structural, perhaps invisible causes of the problems that make social action necessary.
In the Jail/Prison Ministry the above areas of opportunity for service apply. Participation in the appropriate area varies according to one’s gift mix, and calling. One may not feel called to go into the jail/prison to proclaim the Good News but you may be led to mentor an ex-offender, provide housing, or employment, work for restitution for victims and their families, work with law makers to craft legislation that reflects Gospel values and Church teaching, assist someone in furthering his or her education, work with families of incarcerated persons, especially, their children, deal with the structural causes of these problems, become a prayer warrior, etc. The possibilities are numerous and participation in any of them is necessarily the fruit of prayerful discernment.
Yes, worthwhile service of any kind requires stepping out of your comfort zone and allowing your views and ideologies to be sifted by the Gospel. When in doubt we have available the Master’s life, death, and resurrection as a template.
If anyone is interested in getting more information about any aspect of the Friends of Dismas Jail/Prison Ministry feel free to email me at email@example.com or call 936-414-2405.
St. Dismas, also known as the Good Thief, was the Church’s first canonized saint by Jesus Christ himself (Lk 23: 39-43). He is the patron saint of great sinners who have lost hope of salvation, prodigal sons and daughters, those discouraged because of irresolvable situations, and he assists souls who call upon him to prevent them from dying without repenting for their sins. He is also the patron saint of those condemned to death, and those “engaged in dishonest business who would like to make restitution before they die but do not know how.” (Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira)
**“Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, A Statement of the Catholic Bishops of the United States (USCCB) is helpful here. This is very useful in educating yourself about many of the issues involved.
**Catholic Social Teaching is explained well in the Catechism and the USCCB web site.