Saturday, December 25, 2010
Daniel Sone - Florida Catholic
Being home for Christmas and with family is a reality for most year after year, and could be taken for granted. The reality for detainees at the Krome Service Processing Center in southwest Miami-Dade County is that prison walls and razor wire fences separate them from their loved ones on a day devoted to Christ’s birth and family.
In an effort to relay the Christmas message and provide some hope and comfort to the detainees, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski celebrated Christmas Mass with 145 of them, his first time in seven years.
“I used to do this pretty regularly throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. I used to come here and celebrate Mass with them and pray with them, that is, until I left to Orlando,” Archbishop Wenski said.
His return to ministering to the detainees was well received by the facility’s administration and the detainees themselves. Officer in Charge, Anthony Aiello, said that religious services such as the Christmas Day Mass are beneficial to the detainees because they are uplifting. “I saw a lot of smiles today. It helps them, even for a moment, forget about their situation here,” he said.
To help better include the diverse congregation of men hailing from various parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, and even Africa, Archbishop Wenski conducted the Mass in the three main languages of the Archdiocese: English, Spanish, and Creole.
During his tri-lingual homily, Archbishop Wenski likened the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt to the plight of some of the detainees who may be fleeing persecution. “At that time, Christ was an illegal immigrant. He was a refugee.”
He demonstrated to the detainees, many of whom have questionable immigration status, that Christ’s early life was much like theirs in that they were fleeing one place for another in search of safety and a better life.
This parallel was very uplifting to detainee Alfonso Pioquinto, “It touched me when the archbishop said that even Jesus Christ was an immigrant. It made me feel closer to Him and helped reinforce the real message of Christmas. It gives me hope.”
Ministering to detainees at the Krome facility is a long tradition in the Archdiocese of Miami as well as the priestly life of Archbishop Wenski. “When I started coming out here, there were just tents and not much else,” he said. His regular ministry at the facility only ceased due to his responsibilities as bishop of Orlando. Now, he may be returning to this tradition of celebrating Mass at Krome, but it is with a bit of sadness.
“Being back here and doing this is bittersweet for me as well as for them. Christmas is never that sweet when you’re in prison. I feel bad for them that they cannot be with their families and are instead in this place,” he said.
Despite the encroachment of bitterness into the sweet celebration of Christ’s birth, Archbishop Wenski said, “We came here to bring them a little comfort and hope. I hope we were able to do that today.”