By Tim Harfmann
Hymns of praise bounced off the walls of a concrete chapel, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan celebrates an early Thanksgiving mass for inmates at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, New York.
“They’ve learned the hard way that there’s only one person who, in the long run, isn’t gonna let you down. They say, ‘At least we’re not let down by God. He’s always with us,” Dolan said.
The facility is a maximum-security complex, where nearly 500 male inmates have their own cells.
In his homily, Cardinal Dolan shared a message not of thanksgiving, but of hope and mercy through the power of prayer.
Nearly eighty inmates identify as Catholics. On this day, three of them received the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Cardinal anointing their heads with chrism oil, bestowing the Holy Spirit upon them.
Thirty-three-year-old Nelson Morales is from East New York, Brooklyn. He says since arriving at the facility last year, he’s found the Catholic faith. “It plays a big part. It makes you feel at peace, it makes you feel comfortable, it makes think and do things different in the name of the Lord. It’s a way to become a different person by changing. You come to jail, you want to make a difference in your life,” he said.
Thirty-eight-year-old Patrick Alexander has been incarcerated fifteen years for murder. He hopes to see the parole board in 2023. Like Nelson, Patrick has a new commitment to Christ. “His message just shows me that there’s forgiveness for everybody, and nothing is a hopeless situation. It teaches me to see the positive in things instead of always dwelling on the negative,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan says the sacrament is a way of strengthening the faith at a time when inmates might feel alone. “Boy, to be in a group that knows the necessity of being confirmed – strengthened! That’s what the sacrament does. Because they need that grace as well,” he said.