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Reconciling the marginalized in the society

by Maximus Chongo NSJ

From The Companion -  Xavier House Novitiate Newsletter (Zambia - Malawi Province)

images 4(They are to be heartily welcomed if this is what it means to be a practicing Christian) Decree 1 of the General Congregation 36 (GC36) caries the theme, "Companions on a mission of reconciliation and justice".

This is immediately consolidated by an extract from 2 Corinthians 5:18 which reads, "This is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation".

As a way of outlining the agenda that would give a holistic road map in addressing various aspects of the society in dire need of reconciliation, the delegates to the GC36 brought to the table wide ranging issues that call for urgent action. Of them all, however, three were prominent to me:

 

 

 

  • The displacement of peoples (refugees, migrants, and internally displaced peoples)
  • The injustices and inequalities experienced by marginalized peoples
  • Fundamentalism, intolerance, and ethnic-religious-political conflicts as a source of violence

In this reflection, however, the discussion will be centered on the bulletin that makes mention of the in justices and inequalities experienced by marginalized people. And our society has an overwhelming number of them. This being the case, a deliberate effort to isolate the experiences of our brothers and sisters who are freed from prison and later yearn to be integrated into the mainstream society will preoccupy the author. There is a question that one who associates with prisoners will most likely face. "Is it possible for you to find me some work or job as soon as I am released from prison?" A number of inmates asked me this question. Being a sympathizer on my earlier visits it seemed difficult.

Herein, the trouble arose; to have to answer in a way that my brothers and sisters remained hopeful with certainty that all will be well one day as they left the prison. To come out of this desert to a future wrapped in fear, one needs to put himself in the shoes of the incarcerated. To empathize in order to understand the situation and offer concise but realistic responses, I had to start from where I was and what I had, knowing God takes care of people's needs provided we "seek first his Kingdom" (Luke 12:31). On the other hand, I was quickly prompted to consider how our society is organized as far as facilitating the smooth integration of ex-inmates.

On reading GC 36 documents, therefore, especially its special concern on the marginalized, the gap in question was brought to my attention. It gave me hope that saw me envisioning a society in which its structures allowed for absorption of such people, a society that has developed to a level where it begins to take advantage of its accumulated experiences and use them to find solutions to their problems and building bridges that would see the marginalized groups such as the ex-convicts incorporated in the mainstream economic and social activities of the society.

Firstly, the fact that they have the courage to ask such a question demonstrates their desire for reconciliation. It is a reminder to me, as well as those responsible for policy formulation, that when a problem exists somewhere this problem has to be faced head on.

Similarly, on the part of the person raising the question, it is an admission that its continued existence is a cause for more pain and suffering. The next question one may ask is; what is this problem which keeps inflicting pain on our brothers and sisters in prison who have already endured enough for their misconduct? If it exists, how does it manifest itself in our day-today life? In answering such questions, one looks at his or her interior self and ponders how people, who leave prison to start a new life outside. Soon, we realize that this definition carries with it some attached meaning. Later, this meaning or in other words 'label', will determine how people in society will relate to these persons or groups of people. For instance, society names those who have left prison as ex-convicts. Now if we were to put everything into consideration, what would be the long-term implication of such a label?

What exactly am I trying to point out here? I don't know! Take for instance what an employer would look for in a person. Apart from qualifications and work experience, there is always a question on whether one has been in prison before or not. When this happens to the ex-convicts, it means an opportunity lost. For those that are able to persevere, they will still make more applications hoping to grab any one of such opportunities.

Unfortunately, for my poor brother and sister- all the efforts turn out to be wasted energy. Frustrated and yet desperate for a reliable source of income to sustain him/herself, a poor fellow will definitely count on other options. In most cases, as some inmates freely shared, they turn to their old friends.

Surprisingly, their old folks are readily available and always make things work for their prodigal fellow. The effects of such associations are obvious. The guy sees his way back to prison. For you and me, this option or support given is readily condemned on the basis of its negative implications. Fine! Let's condemn it and rightly so. But then what alternatives have we provided to help our fellow to avoid such company.
The narration above is a classic example of the various forms in which we have socially excluded the majority of our brothers and sisters who are marginalized in society. While at the same time we are fighting to reduce crime through policy formulation, building of infrastructures such as police posts, prisons and correction centers.

Surely this is greatly commended and where resources allow, more of such works need to be accelerated. On the other hand, however, there is need for a timely revision of such policies and the creation of new ones that reflect the changing trends as far as the perception of crime is concerned. I strongly believe that a problem is well handled by way of taking a multidimensional approach. In addition to the interventions that already exist, it is imperative that we go an extra mile.

In my view, reconciling this gap at local level means introducing new structures in our churches or regions. Such a structure may likely take the form of an organization or lay movement whose sole purpose is to look into the welfare of ex-convicts.

Persons that belong to such a grouping could as well assign themselves the duty of monitoring beneficiaries of its activities from the moment they leave the prison grounds or better before they leave. This may seem like wishful thinking and yet this is what the just ended General Congregation is calling us to. Jesus Christ our teacher of reconciliation ever provides better counsel to this end. St Matthew, for example, is called and later holds a banquet in which Our Lord comfortably interact with sinners (Matthew 9:9-13). Further, in the gospel text of Luke 23:39-43 Jesus lectures us on the virtue of forgiveness when he pardons the criminal who is crucified with him.

Immediately paradise is promised with the sure hope for a totally new life for our brother. This is the standard he has set for any good follower of his. We may say this is very difficult. And I agree. But the fact that we decide to remain Christian, we have to abide by the norms and values of his gospel

We all desire to see, in a more concrete way, God's interventions into our situations through the prayers we make. Such is the case with the apostleship of prayer for the month of February. Throughout the month we prayed to God that "all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized may find welcome and comfort in our communities." I am convinced that the realization of dreams such as the one proposed here is among the better ways of seeing God's finger at work in the lives of the people who are marginalized. If not in this way, how else can we heartily welcome those who leave the pains and sorrows of prison for a happier and joyful life outside it? In case we forget, here is a reminder: "This is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us them in mistry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18).

 

"The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their faith in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others as he designed." Paul David Tripp

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