What Prison Ministry Looks Like in a Pandemic

For Catholics around the country, the pandemic continues to affect our worship, access to the sacraments, and ministries. And for those who are incarcerated, the restrictions on prison ministry mean that their access to the sacraments is even more rare.

Fr. Joe D’Amico, Director of Prison Ministry for the Archdiocese of Newark, stopped by Morning Air® recently to discuss the challenges that inmates and prison chaplains are currently facing.

Fr. D’Amico explained, “I’ve been getting the question very often, ‘What’s going on in prison ministry? What are you able to do and not do?’ And my answer is very simply, as it pertains to me, absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, in a lot of these facilities that I’m connected to, religious services are considered non-essential.”

He shared that it is difficult to hear that the thing you have given your life to is considered non-essential.

“My pearl of great price, my buried treasure is my vocation to the priesthood, and to not be able to share that with so many men and women who need it the most, and having it called non-essential, is a tough blow,” he said.

However, despite the difficulties, Fr. D’Amico shared that there are some bright spots when it comes to the prison ministry. Just as the pandemic has forced pastors and parishes to find creative ways to keep their flock connected to the sacraments, the same is true for those prison chaplains who are still working to be connected to their incarcerated flock.

“There is great ministry going on, but like in our parishes, it just looks different,” Fr. D’Amico said.

“Of all the chaplains I’m connected to there is only one permanent deacon [allowed in the facility] and he does tremendous work. In that facility the chapel is closed, because all public areas are closed. But in that facility the chaplain is able to visit a cell if he is personally requested by one of the inmates. And that facility, likewise, has a live TV stream of sorts, so he is able to do prayer services. But because he’s a deacon and no outside priests are allowed, there is no Confession, no celebration of the Holy Mass.”

Fr. D’Amico also pointed out that prison chaplains are not the only ones who share the Gospel with those who are incarcerated. He shared a number of stories about inmates who evangelize their fellow inmates, and how important their witness is in showing the transforming love and mercy of Christ.

“I did a full initiation for a gentleman who converted while in state prison,” Fr. D’Amico told Morning Air host John Harper. “He was a member of a gang and was evangelized by a member of a rival gang, and he found his way to the Catholic Church. And in doing so, he put a price on his head.”

“His sponsor is a former skinhead. The former skinhead likewise converted to the Catholic Church while in prison. He was evangelized by another inmate, and he attributes his conversion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He’s one of our best leaders of song and one of our best Catholic ministers on the inside.”

Listen to the full conversation with Fr. Joe D’Amico below, and please join us in praying for all who are incarcerated and their families.

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. Central on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.