New Humanity Movement

Social Ethics

carcereThe experience of a group of catechists in the West African country of Benin.Thanks to the patient and continuous work of understanding, and especially of listening, many situations can be resolved. And the greatest victory is the painful regaining of inner freedom.

For several years, along with some catechist friends, we committed ourselves to giving religious instruction to the prisoners in Porto Novo jail in our city, Benin.

The prisoners are often rejected by society and by their own families. But for us they are our brothers whom we love. After the catechesis, we stay with them for a while longer to hear what they have lived through their rediscovering the Gospel, and we share what we have been living with them.

Over time, we are able to arrive at the big questions with them, about God, His suffering on the cross, but also, because He is Love, His relation with us. Gradually, thanks to this open and peaceful dialogue, they come to accept their imprisonment.

It’s a dialogue that has other results too. Due to our work with them, the prisoners place a lot of trust in us and often sincerely open up their hearts to us, telling us why they are in prison.

This has made it possible for us, to see with them, how to make appeals for them in court, so that some of their cases can be reconsidered. In fact there were people there from ten to fifteen years who had never appeared before a judge. Solutions were found for many cases, and prisoners unjustly detained were freed.

Along with the bishop and the prison chaplain we had the idea of organizing three feast days each year: a Christmas for the poor, Easter, and the feast of St Augustine, the patron of their chapel. Before each feast day, there is a three day retreat based on the Gospel, along with intense prayer, and repentance.

After these spiritual exercises, Mass is concelebrated by the bishop and the chaplain, and this is followed by the distribution of food, clothes and other gifts. All the prisoners, no matter what their belief or religion is take part in these activities. Our bishop invites all those involved in the various associations that help out in the prison so that we can all be united each time. After these days, when we share a large part of their lives, various prisoners tell us that they feel liberated.

Paula’s experience gives some idea of our work: ‘During one of our catechetics sessions, one of the prisoners wanted to speak with me about her suffering, her anger and her hatred. The police arrested her in place of her husband, who, unknown to her, had been accused of a relationship with a minor. She was held by the police commissioners until such time as her husband would come to set her free. After five days waiting in vain, she was put into prison. Her husband had disappeared, and she was locked up and deprived of any news of her children or of her husband.

After this and many other discussions, the woman told me that she was awaiting the day she’d be set free so she could take revenge on her husband and especially on the girl he had relations with, even if she realized that if she did this, she would have to go to jail again.

I listened to her and was able to quietly open her up to prayer, to an understanding of her husband, and in the end, to forgive the young girl, who was already a mother, and even to accept this girl’s child into her own family and to bring him up with her own children. Another time, at catechesis, the woman told me: “I wept all night after our most recent discussion, and asked God to give me the strength to be able to forgive. Look, now I am ready to leave everything.” In that very week, the court called her and she was set free after six months of detention.

She went back home with her heart freed from hatred. After a short time, along with the other catechists, we will visit her to help her go ahead in her love of her neighbour’.

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