Bishop visits prisoners for Mass

Christians in maximum security jail include those on death row

Bishop visits prisoners for Mass
Prisoners celebrating Mass
Robertus Sutriyono, Nusakambangan, Indonesia

May 18, 2011

Jesuit Bishop Julianus Sunarka of Purwokerto has lent his support to Christian prisoners by visiting and celebrating a Holy Mass for them in a maximum security prison on Nusakambangan island, Central Java.

During the May 16 visit, the prelate was accompanied by two priests including the diocese’s secretary general Father Yohanes Suratman and 15 laypeople.

He led a Holy Mass for 30 Catholic and Protestant prisoners, some of whom have been sentenced to death, in the prison’s chapel.

“Jesus told me one day, ‘When I was in jail, you did not visit me,’” Bishop Sunarka told the prisoners. “So today, I come here to see Jesus staying in your heart.”

He also encouraged the prisoners not to be afraid. “No matter how deep our sins, God will forgive us,” he said.

Jose Koelo, the prison officer dealing with prisoners’ faith formation, acknowledged that the bishop’s visit “strengthens our faith.”

Windy Silviana, a visitor, agreed. “We are thankful. Bishop Sunarka’s presence gives us a strong moral support,” he said.

Father Suratman said he planned to send eight priests to continually visit the prison. “So far, it is only Oblate Father Charles Burrows from St. Stephen Church in Cilacap that leads a Holy Mass regularly,” he said.

Nusakambangan is located in the Indian Ocean, separated by a narrow strait from the southern coast of Java. The closest port is Cilacap in Central Java. Dubbed the “Alcatraz of Indonesia,” the island is notorious for its maximum security prisons, home to convicted murderers, terrorists, drug dealers and those convicted in high profile corruption cases.

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