ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Lent in the sign of mercy: “Silsilah” movement visits prison inmates

Tuesday, 5 March 2024 prisoners   lent   dialogue  

Zamboanga City (Agenzia Fides) - The "Silsilah" dialogue movement, founded in the south of the Philippines by the PIME missionary Father Sebastiano D'Ambra, accompanies prisoners on a path of inner liberation, carrying out meetings, visits and seminars during Lent in the city prison of Zamboanga City, a city in the south of the island of Mindanao. The aim is to "give space to works of mercy" and to reach the last and the excluded, such as those who have committed a crime and are in prison. Gil John Rojas, coordinator of the service of the "Silsilah" (a term that means "chain") movement in prisons, says that "it is a path of inner liberation that then - thanks to the change in the person's behavior, which is also visible in life behind bars - often can also lead to a shortening of their prison term".
The members of the "Silsilah" movement began their ministry more than 30 years ago in the Zamboanga City City Jail and continue this mission in several other cities. It is a human and spiritual accompaniment that leads every person on an inner path in search of themselves, the meaning of life and their deepest longing. Over time, numerous inmates have reported their gradual inner transformation, guided by the spirit of the "Silsilah" movement to "do everything with dialogue and love, to achieve harmony, solidarity and peace."
"It's an experience of inner awakening," reports Rojas, "from which one can draw inspiration. When I first entered the prison, I had feelings of nervousness, fear and shame. Then a member of our group addressed those present and called them 'beloved prisoners'. I was deeply touched. Yes, they are indeed loved. They are people who need love. Despite their circumstances and situation, they are worthy of love and care. They are beloved children of God and they are our brothers and sisters".
When in contact with prisoners, you hear tragic stories: for example, about prisoners who, even though they have served their full sentence, are still in prison because of the slow pace of the bureaucracy and justice system. "This is a painful reality that occurs everywhere in the country and that institutions should deal with. Prisoners must cling to the hope that one day they will be released from prison, that they will be able to get a job or an educational opportunity again that they will be able to have a second chance in society", states Rojas. "In the prison service, the feelings of fear were gradually overcome by thoughts of compassion, of love for these people who are loved by God like children," said the coordinator.
"Jesus Christ invites us to visit the prisoners as an act of mercy. They are people who have made mistakes, but we are all imperfect. They are people created in the image and likeness of a God who is good. Deep in their hearts, there is good, and when they receive love, mercy and compassion, this good is awakened in them," explains Rojas, recalling that during the Lenteb season, "this service also converts us who are trapped by pride and selfishness. Lent invites us to become free to love those loved by God," concludes the the member of "Silsilah".
There is a real “prison emergency” in the Philippines. According to the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research at the University of London, the overcrowding rate in Philippine prisons is the highest in the world: it reaches 500% and is constantly increasing. In addition, prisons are full of victims of judicial errors: according to the Supreme Court, 77% of pre-trial detention cases are the result of judicial errors.
Several Catholic organizations denounce the precarious conditions in prisons and the inhumane living conditions and have made it their mission to provide material and spiritual assistance to prisoners who are deprived of the most basic human rights. The organizations call on the government in Manila to respect the human dignity of those detained and to ensure that justice takes its course quickly and transparently. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 5/3/2024)