These friars walk through metal detectors to meet face-to-face with inmates inside a number of prisons in Colorado including: Florence’s Supermax and U.S. Penitentiary, the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, along with a host of youth detention centers.
The Capuchin Franciscan friars are humble servants to those in greatest need. And while the friars strive to bring even the most hardened criminals faith and peace, their visits often are the only glimpse of the outside world these inmates encounter.
An inmate in a women’s prison once told Capuchin priest Fr. Regis Scanlon, “You’re the first person who came to see me in nine years.” Imagine.
Attorney Ed P. Aro, from Arnold and Porter, LLP, likened the friars’ prison ministry to “going to visit the lepers who no one else wants to touch.”
“It’s a tremendous burden that the people who visit take on themselves for a tremendous benefit to the people whom they’re dealing with.” Aro added, “It is impossible to overstate how important simple kindness is in dealing with these folks because they literally have nothing.”
This year Fr. Cyrus Gallagher, OFM Cap., met a young man who entered prison at age 15. The inmate, who was born into a deeply rooted gang culture and given drugs by his parents including cocaine at a very young age, was on the phone with his father, when the elder took his life. This inmate, who battles mental illness, will spend the rest of his life in an 8’ x 12’ prison cell.
Fr. Gallagher was the first person to visit the inmate in years. It was through these connections that the young prisoner’s heart opened. He’s undergone a remarkable transformation inside the seemingly lifeless prison.
The inmate, a gifted artist who once used his skills in gang graffiti, penciled a color image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That prisoner asked that his artwork be used to help the poor, whom the friars serve. The Capuchins framed the original piece and auctioned it last fall during the 20th annual Brown Robe Benefit, the friars’ annual fundraising gala at the Grand Hyatt Denver. The winning bidder offered $3,000 for the one-of-a-kind piece and the funds are used to support the ministry of the friars.
Before the auction, Fr. Gallagher showed the young man a photo of the framed art piece. Tears filled the inmate’s eyes. “This is the first time anybody ever affirmed me for anything good I ever tried to do.”
Pope Pius XI wrote almost a century ago: “Where in all the world have the Capuchins not penetrated? Where have they not shown up? When times were at their worst and help was sorely needed, in places that were abandoned and where no one else would go, there you will find the Capuchins.”
A hundred years later, the Capuchin Franciscan friars still live out Pope Pius’ vision. They walk in the footprints of St. Francis of Assisi who relinquished his family’s wealth to live in brotherhood with the poor and diminished. The friars serve the imprisoned, the poor and sick, the homeless, and the forgotten.
See related video on Utube: http://www.youtube.com/user/CapuchinFranciscans
Capuchin Franciscans, Fr. Bill Kraus and Fr. Joseph Elder outside a prison in Denver, CO