SASKATOON — Volunteer Teresa Hiebert first heard about prison ministry when she was taking the Lay Formation program. Dianne Anderson, co-ordinator of the Office of Restorative Ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, came to a weekend session to speak to participants about her work in the prison.
“A little seed was planted and I thought, ‘I’d like to try that,’ ’’ says Hiebert. “I was really scared at first. You stereotype (prisoners), and you don’t really want to go into prison, but I signed up and I got my clearance and I went in.”
Her first experience was praying the rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with a group of inmates. “That was such a powerful day,” she says.
The experience that began in fear soon gave way to wonder. The men seemed so tough and scary at first, but prayer brings forth new insights. “They were so beautiful, and so honest. When they got down on their knees and you open your eyes, and you see them down on their knees, and praying, you feel that power. You feel the Holy Spirit in the room. It touches your heart,” says Hiebert.
“It was so touching in fact, and I was so humbled (that) tears started coming down my face. And it was so sweet — this one guy across the room saw me tearing up, and he grabbed a box of Kleenex for me,” she recalled..”
Hiebert has also joined Anderson in offering sharing circles at the prison, where the men will open up about their lives and their struggles.
“That’s a humbling experience. It is very personal, and its so touching when you hear the guys connect,” she says. “You see that spark of the divine grow within them. And when you see the tears, you know that’s the Holy Spirit and you can see the change in them, the transformation. I guess that’s the spark of mercy. It shatters that shell — that hardened shell on the outside. That’s where the hope starts to come in.”
“Another powerful prayer that Dianne says with them is the prayer to St, Michael the Archangel; that’s very powerful for them and that’s very real, because they live in so much chaos,” Hiebert says.
Hiebert believes that support for prison ministry makes a huge difference in the lives of the men. “It is such a time of grace and opportunity to be able to connect with them one-on-one in a spiritual environment.”
She often reflects on the huge challenges facing men in prison, and trusts in the hope that encountering God can bring into their lives.
“A lot of them have grown up so beaten up, they haven’t had a home, they haven’t had the opportunities — so you need to help them realize that when they look in the mirror, the face of mercy is right there, the divine is within. That’s our chance to really connect with them.”