SASKATOON — Easter joy rang through the chapel at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre as prisoners joined Bishop Donald Bolen to celebrate mass on the afternoon of Easter Sunday.
Bolen’s message comparing the vastness of God’s love and mercy to the vastness of the ocean profoundly touched the men who heard it, said Dianne Anderson, co-ordinator of Restorative Ministry for the Diocese of Saskatoon, who again organized the Catholic liturgies and Easter outreach with the help of a number of volunteers. “You could see it in the faces of the men who heard his message. It was meaningful for them. They were intent.”
Anderson added that this year, for the first time, volunteers were available to provide music ministry. “We had singing this year for Easter Sunday, and even for Good Friday; it was just so uplifting.” The final Easter hymn and the greetings shared afterward reflected a true resurrection joy, she said.
“When we started with the music ministry at the Provincial Correctional Centre, we weren’t sure what to expect,” said volunteer Dianne Woloschuk, who along with her husband Gerard are now regularly providing music ministry as part of their volunteer outreach at the Correctional Centre.
“We have come to realize that this ministry has brought us into relationship with the men there, and that relationship is special and blessed. Through music and the simple act of presence to one another, we are encountering God in a new way, one that is energizing, joyful, and filled with peace. We are very grateful,” she said.
Another first this year involved celebration of an Easter morning mass for men in the Urban Camp Program, who do not have access to the prison chapel. Retired Oblate priest Rev. Louis Hoffart, OMI, celebrated the Easter eucharist at Urban Camp, which is located in another section of the prison, outside the perimeter of the main centre. “They were just so happy to have mass,” said Anderson.
Other moments of the Triduum were also marked with men at the Correctional Centre, including mass with the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, and the Good Friday liturgy, both led by Rev. Mark Blom, OMI. On Good Friday, Blom read the Passion with volunteers Dorothy and Michel Fortier of St. Anne Parish, and the men came forward to venerate the cross.
“The volunteers at all the celebrations were moved by the experience, along with the men,” Anderson described. “There is no fear in here,” she says of the chapel.
Some 11 volunteers also helped with an outdoor Way of the Cross on Good Friday, with prayers at 14 stations along the prison fence, Anderson said.
Donations from parishes in the diocese again permitted Anderson to purchase chocolate Easter bunnies for every man in the prison, regardless of his faith background, as well as Easter treats for the guards and nurses. This tradition brings a moment of joy to everyone, showing each man that he is not forgotten, said Anderson.
Delivery of the Easter bunnies takes several hours, with a group of about eight volunteers assisting Anderson, this year delivered without wearing her customary bunny ears, which were packed away during a recent move. “The guards missed the ears!” she said with a laugh.