Channel Of Peace
By Fr. Philip Yu Jr., cicm
Our seminary in Zambia is composed of small traditional huts made of mudbricks and thatched roofs. I love the work of helping to ‘form’ the young Ghana seminary but recently I have plunged into another apostolate at the side.
For more than a month now, I have moved on to a new involvement at Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison, particularly at the Condemned Section (death row). How I got myself into it was like a nightmare to me. My retired priest companion, Fr. Wim Goosens, replaced the prison chaplain while he went for a long leave. But Fr. Wim got sick and I had to replace him. The idea itself of being among the prisoners at death row overwhelmed me!
One with the Prisoners
On the first day that I was in prison I was so stunned; I couldn’t believe I was there. My very first time to celebrate the Holy Eucharist at death row was an experience I could never forget. I was in the midst of 52 Catholics prisoners and there we were, squeezed in the very small death row corridor celebrating with joy the Holy Eucharist. It is indeed draining psychologically because I see my presence to bring hope in the midst of despair, joy in the midst of sorrow; but the problem is, I also get caught up with their desperation. There are those who are condemned to death for a crime they have never committed. In the last execution made, two of the five executed were completely not guilty. Still the same there is the concern for justice and peace as well as issues of human rights.
I also do errands for them like buying bath soap, laundry soap and sugar from the common fund I’m keeping for them which was given to them by some of their friends and supporters abroad. I also look for benefactors for prizes of their varied tournaments to keep them preoccupied apart from the skills that the prisoners are learning. Some of them are even continuing their grade school studies despite the limited books they have in their library. Some are doing correspondence courses paid by their supporters from aboard. For the prisoners, even among Catholics, it does not matter to whom they can write as long as they can get some assistance be it in kind or in goods. As Catholics our church is very poor in providing assistance. So now I even have to double time in looking for resources not just for us here in the seminary but also for the death row prisoners.
Why this, Lord?
Given this situation I am still very happy being with the prisoners. Tiresome but very fulfilling and challenging. Here I experience the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi as a reality (Make me a channel of your peace...) and the Gospel of Luke 4: 18-19. Once I laughed at myself because when I started my ministry as a Formator here, I used to help out in some parishes nearby at weekends as gap-fillers for Sunday Masses and there was really something deeper that I longed for. I continually prayed for a more meaningful pastoral involvement than just being a gap-filler and then, unexpectedly, I had the death row before me. God must be confused I asked Him to give me a more meaningful involvement and now that He has granted it, I say to Him, “Why this Lord?” I just sound like all the others in the Bible, Jeremiah and Job.