I am writing this column on something different than I had planned in my “sequence” of topics; I’d like to address a lesser-known aspect of ministry to the incarcerated. Our concern for this often forgotten population certainly finds its foundation in the words of Christ himself in Matthew 25:31-46: “For I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Each and every time I would celebrate Mass in one of the detention facilities in the Diocese of Fort Worth I would hear the words “Thank you for not forgetting us.” That is why in all my 33 years of priesthood, prison ministry has been very important to me, and I look forward to regular engagement with this here in California, just as I did in Illinois and Texas.
There is a particular aspect to this ministry that I recently have found here in California. Not long ago my sister, Mary Therese, encouraged me to get a dog. We always had all kinds of pets growing up in Illinois, including dogs, but I never did have one as an adult for various reasons. However, Mary Therese (who has a great care for animals, particularly rescue dogs) got the ball rolling on this for me. She worked with my administrative assistant, Marianne Bungcag, and I was able to find a dog from the Orange County Animal Shelter. I named him Griffin, after the Catholic boys’ high school in Springfield, Ill. from where I graduated.
At the Orange County Animal Shelter, providentially, I met Janette Thomas, a parishioner at La Purisima Church in Orange who is a volunteer at the shelter. She helped me to adopt Griffin, and more than that, arranged that he be trained in a program called lives. This coming week, there will be a broadcast on KOCE titled “The PAW Program,” sponsored by Pathways to Hope. The program will air on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m., on Feb. 15 at 11 a.m. and on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. You can also check your local PBS station listings for dates and times as well.
Griffin is not only well trained, but he also has made a positive difference in the lives of people whom we cannot see, but who need to know that they are not forgotten. This is true for all of the dogs in this program. I believe that “Pathways to Hope” combines respect for God’s creation and our living out in a unique way the words, “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”