Friday, 28 September 2007

Darwin Prison Welcomes the Cross & Icon

While the Travelling JCI Team was having a reluctant day off, I was one of a privileged team who were able to take the Cross and Icon to the prisons today. Our first stop was the main section of the Darwin Prison, where, having driven the cross inside, we were met by a group of men waiting for us. They seemed quite proud to be invited to carry the Cross and Icon, and patiently carried them around the enclosure, pausing along the fences separating different parts of the prison, while the men on the other side wrote prayers on post-it notes and passed them through the fence to be stuck on the cross. It was quite moving then to see the cross erected in the central area with all their prayers down the centre. Here as in the other prisons, the message stick was quite a point of interest, as many of the prisoners are indigenous. They appreciated passing it around, examining the artwork, connecting with aboriginal people from down south.

While we were in the main prison, an announcement was made over the sound system inviting the prisoners to come and see the World Youth Day Cross and Icon. One of the beautiful moments in the day was when some women in the women’s prison next door overheard the announcement, and asked especially if the Cross and Icon could visit them. Because the local organizing committee had no prior connection at the women’s prison, this had not been planned, but we were so glad to be able to bring the Cross and Icon to them at their request. As soon as the cross was erected there, some of the women boldly walked straight up and kissed the cross. What a place to find such amazing faith!

The team then walked the Cross and Icon to Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. I have visited the young guys (and one girl) there a few times before, and knew they were looking forward to the visit. Throughout the visit they were friendly and willing participants, but it was just near the end where they really seemed to open up. The little crosses were a real hit, and we said a little blessing prayer over each one as they came forward to receive their cross. What was really special was that some came forward who had already taken a little cross earlier, and asked if they could have a blessing too. Then they came and asked for more crosses. And the staff took some crosses too. And then, when all the ‘official’ stuff was over, some of the guys just gathered quietly around the cross, praying, playing, they were at home there. One young guy even told me he will be out soon and he’s interested in coming to World Youth Day.

Finally we carried the cross to the Life Skills Unit of the main prison, where we were welcomed by a group of aboriginal dancers painted up in the traditional way. With didgeridoo, clapping sticks and singing they lead us in procession around the precinct, past the men watching curiously from their rooms. Then as we gathered under a sheltered area for some singing, many men slowly made their way over for a closer look. One prisoner volunteered to guard the cross from the wind, and stood happily by the cross in the hot sun for an hour while the others came forward in veneration. Then, at the last, as Benny Cubillo slipped into a moving rendition of "He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother" there was just a beautiful peace that seemed to descend on everyone. It was a beautiful day.

After the prisons, we headed off for a special Mass celebrating One Faith, Many Cultures, at St Mary’s Cathedral. Over 16 cultural groups (Asian, African, European, Aboriginal and others – Darwin is a very multicultural place) pulled together beautifully to make a great celebration.

Br Chris Kerwick

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