By Anthony Barich
Hakea Prison created history last Sunday by becoming the first correctional facility to let in the World Youth Day Cross and Icon, according to prison chaplain Fr David Shelton OMI.
After the event was promoted to the prison’s 740 prisoners, over 25 of them showed up to venerate the Cross and Icon and celebrate Mass with Archbishop Barry Hickey for the feast of Corpus Christi (Body and Bloody of Christ) in the prison gymnasium.
Every prisoner went up to touch the Cross and Icon, some bowing before the Cross, many making their prayers before it.
When asked what was going through his head as he approached the Cross, one prisoner in his early 20s who cannot be named for security purposes said that he “asked for forgiveness”.
The young man, who said he had attended Catholic primary and secondary schools and grew up in a “strong Catholic family”, said he returned to his faith when he entered the prison months ago.
It was undoubtedly a moment of grace for all involved, with a handful of musicians from the Archdiocese of Perth providing a musical backdrop to the veneration and during the Mass.
Prisoners did the readings; one struggled through the Responsorial Psalm, but Fr Shelton, who knows the man, said later that the man has difficulty reading but would have been proud to get through the reading at the Mass.
Fr Shelton, prison chaplain for 11 years, said it was the first time an Australian prison had allowed the WYD Cross and Icon inside its walls. He said that previously it had only been allowed to sit at its outskirts.
Hakea Superintendent Ian Clark, a Church of England Christian himself, said he could see no reason why the Cross should not enter a prison.
“It could provide an avenue for rehabilitation,” he said.
“Everything must be given an opportunity, providing it does not incite them to acts of violence, which the Cross obviously won’t. Providing the activity is managed well and all the security measures are in place, I think prisons would need to show why on earth they wouldn’t allow something like this into the place.”
Fr Shelton said some prisoners regularly attend his Sunday Mass services and on the morning of the WYD Cross arriving, one even asked for the sacrament of Confession.
Archbishop Hickey, who visits the remand centre at least twice a year, explained that ‘icon’ is a Jewish word meaning ‘image’, and in the context of the Icon’s image of Mary holding a pre-adolescent Jesus, this tells us that we are made “not just for this world, but beyond”.
He said the fact that Christ is depicted not as a baby is significant – “He is not defenceless; He has something to say”.
He explained the redemptive nature of suffering; that because Christ rose from the dead, the Cross not only represents suffering but also victory over death and suffering.
He invited the prisoners to take their troubles to Christ, to offer them up. He said that the Cross, that represents Christ’s suffering at Calvary, has meaning for everybody.
He said it invites us to trust God, just as Jesus trusted His Father when he was nailed to the Cross.
The Archbishop also invited the prisoners to pray for the strength to “carry their cross”, to endure suffering, and to use the opportunity of praying to Mary, represented in the Icon, to help them endure.
Her later told The Record that based on his previous meetings with prisoners, he said that they often have “a lot of faith”, and that “they draw on it perhaps more than in other situations in life, as they’ve got plenty of time to think”.