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placeholder Ministers bring Mass to inmates at Santa Rita Jail

Father Ricardo Chavez retires from his home parish

Father Jerry Kennedy, retiring after 44 years, values being post-Vatican II priest

Volunteering is found to be good for retirees’ health

Caregivers offered advice on how to cope with stress and demands

For older adults, a few simple steps can reduce the risks of serious falls

Health reform challenges: court cases, state laws

De La Salle High honors fallen soldier

Building peace is focus of summer institute at SCU

OBITUARIES
• Deacon Paul Frumkin
• Sister Patricia Kenny, SNJM
• Father Kenny Scott, OFM

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placeholder June 21, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA

Dominican Father Bryan Kromholtz celebrates Mass for men in the jail’s maximum security unit.
all photos by José Luis Aguirre
Ministers bring Mass to

An inmate prays during the liturgy in the jail’s chapel.
inmates at Santa Rita Jail

Father Padraig Greene’s message to a group of medium-security women inmates at Santa Rita Jail on the feast of Corpus Christi was so simple, yet it is not easily done:

Father Padraig Greene preaches during a June 5 Mass for women at Santa Rita Jail.

“Change your mind and your life will follow,” he said.

“Amen to that,” one of the women volunteered.

“Jesus helps us have a new beginning,” he continued. “We all fail, don’t we? But are we failures? No.”

“Amen” was the chorus.

Father Greene, parochial administrator of the Catholic Community of Pleasanton, is in his 10th year of service with Catholic detention ministry, living out the very powerful words from Matthew 25: “I was in prison and you visited me.”

It is a visitation that has been made continuously by detention ministers in the Oakland Diocese for more than 20 years. Mass is said on the first Saturday of each month and weekly communion services are conducted by Catholic volunteers at the Alameda County facility in Dublin.

For the feast of Corpus Christi, however, the detention ministers broadened their effort to a scale never before attempted. Eight Masses were said by Father Greene and seven other priests. There were also communion services led by deacons and lay people throughout the day, throughout the jail.

The concept, said Richard Denoix, the detention ministry coordinator, was jointly developed by jail personnel and the detention ministers who saw the feast of Corpus Christi — celebrating the body and blood of Jesus Christ — as the perfect occasion.

“It represents very well our Church, the Catholic Church, and it has a particular meaning of salvation for everyone,” said Denoix, in his eighth year as a detention minister. “I thought the day would be particularly appropriate.”

Multiple choirs from St. Raymond Parish in Dublim and CCOP participated in the effort along with volunteers from those parishes and St. Charles Borromeo and St. Michael in Livermore and St. Joan of Arc in San Ramon.

Elaine Snyder, a member of the CCOP cantor ministry, was making her first detention ministry visit. By mid-morning, she spoke like a veteran:

“I have been feeling such a call to come and do this. I felt a need to do this. And it was such a wonderful experience. I look at the faces of these women who have had just devastating experiences in their life and have made awful choices that have gotten them to these circumstances.

“If just one of them in their life is touched and their heart is moved by what Father Padraig said, or by their participation in this Mass, it is worth the entire effort to do this.”

Lori Nelson, also of CCOP, is an eight-year veteran. “It is the most fulfilling ministry I have ever done. And I am far more fulfilled with the Holy Spirit than with any other ministry. It is filled with Christ. You feel it here. The Holy Spirit is working in this place. It is present each time I come.”

Pete DeFao, yet another veteran of the ministry, said of the inmates, “They are always so grateful that we are here. I really feel that I am doing the Lord’s work.”

At the early-morning Mass, said for about 30 women in the jail chapel, inmates participated by doing the readings. Carolyn Stewart, who on this Saturday was marking her 94th day behind bars, read with an authoritative voice. But she was something of a ringer.


Father Kromholtz gives Communion to an inmate during Mass in the jail’s basketball court.

“I am Pentecostal. My father was a Pentecostal minister,” said Stewart, 52.

She had come to Mass, she said, because a fellow inmate is Catholic. The two discuss their faiths often and have many differences and she wanted to learn something about Catohlicism and experience it.

“It didn’t matter that it was a Catholic service,” said Stewart. “I could still feel the presence of God.”

Stewart said she is “the spiritual one in my pod,” reading the Bible, joining in bible studies. She marveled at her fellow inmate’s response to the Mass celebrated by Father Greene. “She got down on her knees and she was a different person. I’m glad I got to see that side of her,” she said.


Fathe Greene preaches during a June 5 Mass for women at Santa Rita Jail.

Stewart pondered what she had learned. “Forgiveness,” she said.

Inmate Renee Walters, 47, beamed throughout much of the Mass. “When I’m with my Lord and Savior I feel good about it,” she said. “I ain’t mad.”

Said Father Greene, “We are trying to get them in touch with that inner spirit that is very crushed, and has been for too long.”

He told the women he knew how they are suffering, separated from their children and families. Tears were dabbed. But he asked them to give what they could to God, just as the 12 Apostles, in Luke’s gospel that day, gave all they had — five loaves and two fish — that miraculously fed 5,000 people. “They all ate and were satisfied,” the Gospel reads.

“Give me what you have,” Father Greene told the women. “Celebrate that God is in your corner. Forever.”

Later that morning, Father Bryan Kromholtz, a Dominican from St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland, said Mass at an outdoor concrete-floored basketball court for 12 maximum-security men inmates. The roof was of chain link.

“As we prepare to celebrate these sacred mysteries, let us recognize those ways in which we have fallen short of that body of Christ that we are called to be for each other, and ask for our Lord’s mercy,” he said.

“Jesus Christ came to us, born of the Virgin Mary. He took on our life, like us in every way but sin. That means he suffered with us. He knew what it was like to go without. He knew what it was like to have a hard day’s work. He knew what it was like to be ridiculed. He knew what it was like to be rejected. He knew what it was like to be condemned. He knew what it was like to be killed,” he said.

During the prayers of intercession, inmate Frank Rice, 44, thanked Father Kromholtz and the others in the ministry for “touching our hearts.”

After Mass, he elaborated. “These are God’s people, just as I am one of God’s people. God is hope, God is faith, and I carry God on a daily basis, even though I am in here on a sinful way. I still ask for my blessing, my protection.

“It is a blessing that we can get people coming from the outside to come in and share words of wisdom, because we always need that type of strength in the structure that we are in right now.”

Rice, who said he has been in and out of jail for between 25 and 30 years, attends services at two Berkeley churches, the McGee Avenue Baptist Church and St. Paul AME Church. “If it wasn’t for church I would not be breathing right now,” he said.

On his way back to his cell, he offered a final comment: “Thanks for coming.”

 
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