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January 9, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
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Rev. Alexander Castillo assists as Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, says Mass at Santa Rita Jail.
MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE

Mass fills void for Santa Rita inmates

The bishop's annual Christmastime Mass at the Santa Rita Jail requires some adjustment.

Just an ounce or so of wine, which must be consumed by the celebrant, is allowed behind the series of steel doors that lead to the chapel.

The bishop's crozier, too, is left behind.

The Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ — this year, the Fourth Sunday of Advent liturgy on Dec. 17 — appeared nonetheless welcome by the inmates who choose to attend.

The Diocese of Oakland will be providing additional chaplaincy services to inmates at the Dublin jail, as well as inmates at the Glenn E. Dyer Jail in San Leandro, under a recently approved contract.

On Dec. 6, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a contract with Acts Full Gospel Church of Oakland to provide inmate chaplaincy programs through December 2019.

Bishop Barber will serve as chaplaincy adviser on the project team, according to documents filed with the county. The Diocese of Oakland will serve as a subcontractor, said Cristina Hernandez, Life and Justice coordinator for the diocese.

The diocese will fill one full-time equivalency, according to the contract. Three people will share that position.

The bishop appointed Rev. Alberto Perez, parochial vicar of All Saints Parish in Hayward, to serve at Santa Rita Jail two days a week, and Rev. Luke Ssemakula, parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Parish in Walnut Creek, to serve at Glenn E. Dyer Jail one day a week.

Richard Denoix, who has served as a volunteer in detention ministry for 20 years, will become the program coordinator and chaplain two days a week.

The three were scheduled to begin chaplaincy training at the jail the first week of January, and will be working with the veteran chaplains there. They will serve Catholic inmates, as well as non-Catholics.

For the Dec. 17 Mass, a choir of seven from St. Raymond Parish and the Catholic Community of Pleasanton — both fresh from their respective concerts the evening before — were accompanied on the keyboard by Geoffrey Torres of the Dublin parish.

Lenore Denoix, a veteran of jail ministry, brought a crucifix for the altar, which resembled a wooden desk.

In another area of the jail, volunteers from Catholic parishes were helping children who had just visited their parents to select from what looked to be a toy store. Most of the attractively displayed toys, craft supplies, books and stuffed animals had been donated by the local Catholic parishes.

Matt Gray of the Catholic Community of Pleasanton was among the volunteers. "It's got to be hard to be a kid and have a parent incarcerated at Christmas," he said.

The children were leaving with something more than a big clear bag packed with toys of their choice, he said.

They were carrying home hope.

Hope, too, was offered to the 10 inmates, dressed in identical blue uniforms and orange clog-type shoes, who filed into the chapel for the Mass.

In his homily, the bishop recounted the story of David and Bathsheba, noting King David's transgressions.

"God forgives him," the bishop said. "Not only is he forgiven, he's a successful king but the Son of God, Jesus, is born from his family line.

"Your thoughts control your life. Don't ever think, I've made a mistake, I've committed a crime. My life is over. I've got no hope.

"You say to the Lord, 'I'm sorry.' He'll not only forgive the sin, he'll straighten out everything else."

The bishop had been at the jail earlier in the month for a reconciliation service, joining area priests and detention ministry volunteers. He has been to the jail for these services twice a year, near Easter and Christmas.

After the new Catholic chaplains are trained, Hernandez said, she hopes to be able to invite lay volunteers to train to go inside and visit the inmates.

Additionally, she said, "We hope to develop a model for jails beyond Alameda County."

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