Kate Lassiter, Ph.D., assistant professor of religious studies, is part of a delegation from the Cincinnati Archdiocese that has been invited to the Vatican on November 5-6, 2016, to recognize the work of those who minister to prisoners from around the world. Lassiter volunteers with St. Francis de Sales's HELP program, a ministry dedicated to support the formerly incarcerated. She will be sharing pictures and thoughts about her experience.
Today is our last day in Rome and apex of our pilgrimage. We are here to lay claim to a Jubilee of Mercy for prisoners and returning citizens.
Darkness was on us as we walked up St. Peter's Square, fellow pilgrims and prisoners from all over the world journeying with us.
We reached the holy doors where it is said that we both--black and white, GED and Ph.D.--equally receive an indulgence of mercy as we pass through. We walked through together, side by side. We finally got to our seats and we couldn't resist this photo op. This is Tiffany's day. I am clearly her plus one.
As Pope Francis recessed down the aisle, I thought about how a jubilee of mercy is a celebration of freedom. Tiffany and my participation in this pilgrimage is an opportunity to recognize and receive our freedom as daughters of God, as sisters in Jesus, as friends with the Spirit.
During his homily, Pope Francis addressed his special guests and spoke to the Church universal. Allow me to lift up the words he especially spoke to Tiffany and other women and men who have been imprisoned, words which also indict us, sinners and prisoners all, in our failure to ensure that returning citizens are made free, welcomed home, and celebrated.
"A Jubilee, by its very nature, always brings with it a proclamation of freedom (Lev. 25:39-46). It does not depend on me to grant this, but the Church's duty, one she cannot renounce, is to awaken within you the desire for true [italicize] freedom....A certain hypocrisy leads to people considering you only as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer....Hypocrisy leads us to overlook the possibility that people can change their lives; we put little trust in rehabilitation, rehabilitation into society....We absolutize the laws of the market even as they crush other people....Pointing the finger against someone who has made mistakes cannot become an alibi for concealing our own contradictions." Click here for a link to Pope Francis' homily.
What does mercy mean for me as a pastoral theologian, as Tiffany's mentor, as a human being made in the image and likeness of God, like all human beings? Mercy to me means both pushing and pulling toward the kingdom of God. Mercy to me means keeping our eyes on the prize as we re-member each returning citizen within society. Mercy to me means living and loving each other in the freedom that marks the Divine life. Mercy to me means seeing the injustices of our system within a framework of vulnerabilities which some people are made to bear even as they are stripped of their human dignity. Mercy to me means restoring individual and collective human dignity, restoring self worth, and restoring society, by acknowledging our brokenness and finitude. Mercy to me echoes the words of Jesus, the words of Isaiah, as he announces the start of his ministry in the gospel of Luke: I have come to set captives free.
Mercy to me means learning to love like the God I serve: by mentoring; by removing the barriers to employment and housing that returning citizens perpetually run up against; by committing myself to the work of theological education with and for the sake of vulnerable, marginalized, and disempowered women and men; and by continuing to walk with Tiffany on her journey as she continues to walk with me on mine.