LINCOLN (SNR) – Bishop James Conley will celebrate Holy Mass March 31 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, the largest state prison in Nebraska.The bishop will also celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation for several Catholic inmates who have been prepared to receive that sacrament.
Inmates who have requested attendance will be permitted to attend the Mass, regardless of their religious affiliation. Several priests, including the regular chaplains of the penitentiary, will voluntarily attend the Mass. The service will be offered in English and Spanish, and an inmate choir will provide music sung in Spanish.
“The men and women in our state’s prison system are a part of our community, and an important part of our Church,” said Bishop Conley. “Incarcerated Nebraskans are our brothers and sisters. I’m very grateful to be able to celebrate Mass with them, particularly during Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter. I hope the Mass will be a time of fellowship and communion in Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Conley mentioned the inspiration of Pope Francis’ recent visits to Italian prisons.
“Bishops and popes have a long history of visiting prisons,” he said, “including Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope St. John Paul II. Visiting the imprisoned is a ‘corporal work of mercy.’ (Mt. 35-46) I was very moved by Pope St. John Paul II’s visit to Mehmet Ali Ağca, the man who shot him in 1981. And St. Peter, the first pope, was himself incarcerated twice.”
The Mass was arranged with assistance from Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.
“I’m very grateful to Scott Frakes for his generosity in welcoming me to Nebraska State Penitentiary,” the bishop remarked. “I am also grateful to Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley, for his help in securing this opportunity. I hope to have regular opportunities to visit with incarcerated Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln.”
Department of Corrections Director Scott Frakes echoed Bishop Conley’s enthusiasm: “the members of our faith-based community give so much support and guidance to the men and women incarcerated worldwide,” he said. “Our prison systems in America benefit greatly from the spiritual influence of religious volunteers and the religious programs they lead. To have Bishop Conley celebrate Mass inside the Nebraska State Penitentiary shows his commitment to all members of the Catholic faith, and to those who simply seek guidance. His journey behind the walls of NSP gives a powerful demonstration of servant leadership. NDCS is proud and honored to facilitate this opportunity for the men housed at NSP.”
The Diocese of Lincoln is in the midst of a $53 million dollar capital campaign, a portion of which will be used to support ongoing Catholic ministry in prisons and jails.