The ministry of the convicted in penitentiary institutions – mission, necessity, hope
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The oldest civilized societies already knew that the national system of safety required places of isolation for those who committed acts which violated legal order. However, none of the first legal orders considered religion to have educational impact. The most important task of every priest offering their ministry in the isolation of prison is the conversion of those deprived of freedom. The reality in which they have to work may be compared to the Tower of Babel which brings together perpetrators of various offences. A man has always been brave, heroic and courageous but also weak “errare humanum est”. Sometimes a man breaks the law in such a way that they deprive themselves of the most precious thing, i.e. freedom. Every society is subject to political and economic considerations. The teaching of the Church also includes the image and understanding of a man. John Paul II very strongly supported this idea. For him, a man was the most important fundament of social life. According to him, the democratic order could not be based solely on the compliance with the law but it also had to take into account the concept of a man, their welfare and possibilities. Despite their downfall, prisoners do not lose their inborn dignity and they remain human. Their dignity needs to be respected, although it does not mean that their humanity is disrupted. Rehabilitation should make a man rediscover themselves and experience their dignity despite the fact that they had hurt somebody. In many cases the committed crime is irreversible, as no one is able to bring a man back to life or cure somebody who has been badly hurt. However, it does not mean that the improvement and conversion of an individual, a man, is impossible. In his teaching, John Paul II often pointed to the importance of a fundamental goodness which is present in every man. Despite a sin and an internal conflict a man cannot destroy it and, thanks to it, they are capable to differentiate between the good and the bad. The words of John Paul II, said to the convicted in the prison in Plock in 1991 during his 4th Pilgrimage to Poland, were of significant importance: “Each one of you may become a saint with the help of God’s grace”.
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