Diocese offers prison ministry series

YOUNGSTOWN — Local residents are learning how to bring the message of the Lord to those who are incarcerated through a series of programs offered by the Diocese of Youngstown as part of the Jubilee Year of  Mercy.

Pete Schafer, director of Lay Ministry and Leadership Formation for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, said the program was designed to show people how to get started with prison ministry program, which for many is a calling by Jesus to visit those in prison.

A gathering of about 20 people was held recently at St. Patrick Church in Youngstown.

“The actual ministry is up to the individual. Some go weekly by themselves, or others go as a group to TCI (Trumbull Correctional Institution). There are some places where they go and hold Bible studies,” Schafer said.

The programs are co-sponsored by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Youngstown, Criminal Justice Ministries and Office of Lay Ministry.

Anthony Kobak, a volunteer chaplain for the diocese at the Ohio State Penitentiary of Youngstown, has been visiting the super-maximum-security prison weekly for the past five years.

Kobak shared how God called him to the corporal work of mercy and now helps others to get involved in the prisons

Schafer said Michael O’Brien, a coordinator at the diocese, has been able to get people connected to the institutions and ministries already offered at the prisons.

He said the six-week preparation includes discussions on biblical foundation of prison ministry, witnesses and testimonies from those in the ministry, representatives from the prison, interpersonal relationships and how to connect with people on a personal level, and some of the issues the inmates may have to deal with.

Schafer said that last spring, meetings were held at six sites in the diocese to introduce people to the program, with Kobak speaking on what he has been able to accomplish with those in local prisons.

“There was a lot of interest in the program. The diocese has been trying to reach out to different groups,” he said.

Schafer said also being addressed is when people are released from prison, getting them re-acclimated in society and to their families following incarceration.

He said that topic will be discussed for two weeks.

Al Ricks of St. Michael Parish in Canfield said he and Schafer take turns facilitating the sessions in conjunction with criminal justice ministry.

He said people being lay ministers try to provide more information to those participating.

Ricks said there has been ministry to prisoners at the Ohio State Penitentiary. He has been involved with prison ministry for two years and was introduced by Kobak.

Pat Rogan, a member of Blessed Sacrament in Warren, said she was introduced to prison ministry when she was asked to visit a death row prisoner. For the last two years, she has been going regularly to TCI in Leavittsburg.

While some people at the meetings are new to the program, others have been taking part for 10 to 20 years.

The Rev. Ed Noga of St. Patrick  said it is encouraging to see so many people interested in being part with both those who are new to the program and others with many years of experience. He said some people have taken part in jail ministry visiting those in jail.

For information, call 330-744-8451, Ext. 289, or 330-744-3320, Ext. 220.