Prison Ministry in Fiji

by Guest Contributor

An article written by Fr. Patrick Colgan who lives in Fiji and details his trip to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Suva.

One of the highlights of our week here in the Spiritual Year House is our visit to either the Prison Remand Facility in Suva or the Juvenile Rehabilitation Center also in the capital city. The latter is for boys under the age of 18 who have committed a crime but cannot be admitted to the standard prison system. Both places provide rich opportunities for individual counselling, which we do under the trees and sheds at the Juvenile Center and in a communal legal aid room at the Remand.

The juveniles often come from broken, very poor families, constraining them to steal or commit burglaries in order to survive. The Remand prisoners are older; many of them are also awaiting sentencing for aggravated burglary, domestic violence and in some cases, murder. It has been quite a challenge for us engaging in conversation with “criminals” whose story we have seen on the previous evening’s national news. One has to work hard to suspend one’s prejudices, or the media’s slant on the case, in order to allow the person to express himself as he wishes or needs.

Church dance at the Juvenile Centre open day.

On our return home, the students are encouraged to write down particularly significant (or difficult) conversations, detailing their feelings during it, and how they felt God was asking them to be a channel of Christian understanding to this fellow human being. We then discuss these reports one by one each week, gaining valuable insights into our own interior dynamics and listening skills.

We pray for our friends in both Juvenile and Remand in our daily Eucharist, and often find that they are the ones who have mirrored Christ’s presence to us, more than any other event, that day. We come to experience for ourselves the Master’s words: “I was in prison and you visited me… insofar as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25)

Fr. Colgan and seminarians in the Spiritual Year House in Fiji last year.