Within the prison walls of the Central Florida Reception Center, a security guard escorts Bishop John Noonan and Deacon David Gray across an empty courtyard to a bare recreation room where several incarcerated men are preparing the room for the celebration of Mass. As the men place missalettes on the rows of chairs, Bishop Noonan makes himself available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Soon the room is full of more than one hundred men, all dressed in an identical blue uniform with black shoes. Although most of the men are of other faiths, some of no faith, they still gather in fellowship and support for their brother Paul who will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation during the evening’s Mass.
“Paul has been there for a long time and has a few years left,” said Sharon Taylor, Sacramental Coordinator at Holy Cross Parish in Orlando. “He knows what this signifies for his faith and desires it. This is why he specifically requested to take confirmation classes since we do not teach in his unit yet.”
Every Monday, Taylor coordinates with the prison to have herself and other catechists teach the Catholic faith to a group of incarcerated men to prepare them to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation and Confirmation.
“It was a natural outreach for us to minister in our parish and just incorporate that into the prison system,” said Taylor. “It is inspirational to me how these men embrace it. Some of these guys didn’t grow up with any faith and they wander in the desert. But with these classes they are on fire, they pray, they read the bible and someone last year received all the sacraments.”
In Bishop Noonan’s homily he spoke about hope and encouraged everyone to encounter the mercy of God.
“As we look to the future, let’s allow Jesus to help us find the grace, find the strength, and above all use mercy to guide us to do what is really right,” said Bishop Noonan. In prayer Bishop continued saying, “Every day Lord help us, help us to wake up in the morning and know you are there to help us get through the day. When I feel afraid, when I feel alone, when I feel miserable, when I’m angry, when I am not at all patient with my brothers, give me the strength, the hope, that you are present.”
After the homily, Bishop Noonan asked Paul to come forward to receive the gifts of the spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation. Paul bowed his head and closed his eyes as Bishop Noonan stretched his hands over him and silently prayed. The other inmates watched attentively while Paul was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and strengthened for service to the Body of Christ.
During his recent visit to Mexico City, Pope Francis brought the message of the Jubilee of Mercy to inmates and their families in Ciudad Juárez saying, “You have known the power of sorrow and sin, and have not forgotten that within your reach is the power of the resurrection, the power of divine mercy which makes all things new. Now, this mercy can reach you in the hardest and most difficult of places, but such occasions can also perhaps bring truly positive results.”
The positive results of Paul’s encounter with the mercy of God was evident as he received the handshakes and congratulations of his fellow inmates following the Mass. Filled with the Spirit, Paul’s faith journey will continue as he carries out the Church’s mission to love and serve within the walls of the Central Florida Reception Center.