A number of people attended the welcoming but socially-distanced event, including Fr Martin Sylvester. There were local representatives from other Christian traditions too.
Theresa showed the group three short films made by Pact. In one piece, Lewis, a former prisoner, performs his own powerful spoken word poetry.In another, two former prisoners speak movingly to each other about their experiences, how faith helped them to make a fresh start and how Pact staff and volunteers treated them: ‘They didn’t judge me. They spoke to me like a human being’.
Pact Services Manager, Lesley Ward, also attended the event and explained the life-changing work she leads covering a number of prisons and community hubs in the diocese and further afield. Lesley shared important insights into the challenges of the prison environment, particularly during the pandemic. She was able to give more information about some of the learning opportunities Pact provides, such as the parenting skills training, shown in another Pact short film. Pact works to strengthen family relationships where appropriate as this gives hope and the real potential of living a better life together in the future. Those leaving prison with strong family bonds are 39% less likely to return to crime.
The discussion led to several useful action ideas. While sharing the distressing ‘hidden sentence’ a family can live through alongside their loved one in prison, Theresa highlighted the National Prisoners’ Families Helpline which Pact provides. Fr Sylvester suggested that a poster giving details of the Freephone Helpline number ought to be in every church porch. Theresa agreed to take this forward.
Pact welcomes support from parishes and individuals. To keep in touch, if you have not already signed up to our magazine, Fresh Start, you can do so here: Sign up to Fresh Start | Prison Advice and Care Trust
There are opportunities to work as a volunteer supporting a number of Pact's services in the diocese. Pact has an established training and support programme for volunteers.
Parishes in the diocese may like to think about becoming ‘partners’ to prisons in the region where Pact has a presence. This has worked well in other areas recently. For example, parishioners have worked together to provide gift cards which prisoners can give to their children, sharing a little love and joy and strengthening family bonds this Christmas - as part of Pact's Operation Elf.
The Vocation to the priesthood is a response to the call of God to serve and love him and his people in consecrated life. The priest plays a key role in the Church primarily through acting as a living witness of Christ in their proclamation of the Gospel through word and deed. They also play a significant part in the sacramental life of the Church and thus support the Catholic community in living a life of holiness and faithfulness to God.
A Diocesan Priest most often lives out their vocation through service of a parish community. They do this in a multitude of ways - the celebration of Mass and administration of the other Sacraments, leading the community in prayer, visiting those in need, and providing for the spiritual and temporal needs of the people. This is likely to include support for the ill in local hospitals, those who are housebound, providing guidance to those preparing for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation, and acting with compassion towards those who have recently lost loved ones. Priests are often called upon to provide chaplaincy services, most frequently in school, but sometimes also to universities, prisons, and occasionally to groups or organisations. In each of these roles, a priest will be called upon to act with thoughtfulness, patience and to show wisdom drawn from their experience, study and prayer. They will be looked to for encouragement, support and hope whilst providing guidance in a compassionate and understanding manner. That may sound like a rather daunting set of expectations, but a priest has faith that in seeking to do this he does not act alone, but rather as God’s instrument in the world.
Discerning a Vocation to the Priesthood
This is a lengthy process and thankfully it is not necessary to be close to completing it when considering seminary study. One of the reasons for the years spent in seminary is to be able to take the time together with the guidance of experienced seminary staff to learn if the priesthood is how you are meant to live your life.
At an early stage it is often better to look for possible signs of a vocation. This is likely to have within it a number of features you may recognise. One of those would be a love for the God and the people of his Church. A desire to include prayer and the sacraments would be one way of expressing this. Others may have noted that you would potentially make a good priest and may have encouraged you to consider this. You may have a desire to help others in various ways in their lives, significantly in supporting them in developing their relationship with God so that the hope, joy, care and love that he offers to them may become apparent to them in their lives. Perhaps not all of these attributes apply, and maybe even only few of them, to you - that is not a concern. The desire to consider and explore a vocation to the priesthood is often in itself one of the most important aspects for starting the process of discernment.