This photo was taken by Helmut Munikel and shows the group of delegates attending the International Prison Chaplains Association conference in Stockholm. The place we are standing in the photo is the City Hall in Stockholm, which is where the Nobel prizes are awarded each year.
By the way, I'm the one in the white top in the middle of the group who is looking the wrong way. Sums me up actually - I've always been "easily distracted". Many people are familiar with the Myers Briggs personality theory. I'm quite a fan of it actually. The first two times I did it were ten years apart and both times I came out as ENFP, which if you don't know Myers Briggs will mean nothing to you. Anyway, some wag has written a different prayer for each of the different sixteen personality groups and the prayer for the ENFP category is: "Dear Lord, ...oh look there's a bird...". This resonates with me, I have to confess and so I think it's quite appropriate that I should be looking the wrong way in the photo!
The conference was such a blessing to attend. I'm so grateful for the privilege of being able to go and still processing the experience in my mind. Above all the fellowship of more than 300 fellow chaplains from 69 countries was such an encouragement to me. At the end we had to stand around the meeting hall - all of us - holding hands for the final benediction. We sang "You raise me up" together, literally raising our arms whilst still holding hands at each chorus. Normally such an occurrence would seem to this worldly, hardened, heavy-rock-loving cynic to be a total cheese-fest but on this occasion I was moved to tears. I was holding hands on my right with a Northern Irish prison chaplain and on my left with Patriarch Bartholomew in full regalia. Normally, I work either alone or in a team of two (my Roman Catholic colleague is part time) and so it was incredibly encouraging and uplifting to be reminded that I'm part of a worldwide body of prison chaplains, only a very few of whom were at the conference of course, who are my brothers and sisters in Christ with the same passion as I have to see prisoners meet God and share my testimony (and that of the writer of the hymn "And can it be"): "My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee".
Conference Declaration DECLARATION OF THE 6th WORLDWIDE CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL PRISON CHAPLAINS’ ASSOCIATION
August 20-25, 2010 Clarion Hotel, Stockholm Sweden
The 6TH International Prison Chaplains’ Association Worldwide Conference held at the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden from 20-25 August 2010, attended by 320 participants from 69 countries representing all regions in the world, with the theme ”Forgotten People”
Bearing in mind the wonderful biblical stories that reveal the unconditional love of God and His Mercy and Compassion and who fulfils His promises;
Considering that the 25th year of IPCA is a time of thanksgiving and gratefulness for the blessings that it receives, it is challenged to proclaim justice that heals and restoration to the prisoners, to the victims and to the community.
Recalling the various international and national standards on the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and in particular the laws that recognize the right to life, the dignity of the human person and the laws affecting the youth.
Coming together as one community under the guidance of the spirit committed to uniting, encouraging and equipping a global network of prison chaplains; and pursuing the creation of a better environment for those affected by crime, having deepened our solidarity and having been awakened to a more creative way of doing prison ministry;
Being deeply concerned with the increasing urgency of the need to revitalize our prison ministry programs to respond in pro-active ways to the following issues and concerns:
– THE PATHETIC SITUATIONS IN THE PRISONS IN MANY COUNTRIES – THE DESPERATE AND RETRIBUTIVE SYSTEM OF OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEMS – THE CONDITION OF THE CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE LAW – THE DEATH PENALTY ISSUE – THE DEARTH OF PROGRAMS FOR HEALING AND RESTORATION
Observing the common issues and concerns presented during the conference, we especially take note of the following violations of the rights of the persons deprived of liberty in many countries:
– CONGESTION, POOR HYGIENE, VENTILATION AND FOOD IN PRISONS – NON-SEPARATION OF YOUTH OFFENDERS FROM ADULT OFFENDERS. – HARSH DISCIPLINE, PUNISHMENT AND TORTURE – PROLIFERATION OF DRUGS AND OTHER SUBSTANCE ABUSE. – PROSTITUTION IN PRISONS AND SEXUAL ABUSE – LACK OF ACCESS TO A GOOD DEFENSE OF THE CASES – CORRUPTION IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM NOT TO MENTION THE BIASES AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST VULNERABLE SECTORS OF SOCIETY – LONG SENTENCES AND LIFE SENTENCES – EXECUTIONS AND THE DEATH PENALTY – IMPACT ON THEIR FAMILIES – INCREASING NUMBER OF FOREIGN PRISONERS DUE TO DRUG TRAFFICKING AND LARGE SCALE MIGRATION TRENDS.
Believing that the problems of the prison situation are far more serious now than at any other time in the long history of our involvement in prison ministry.
Feeling an inescapable responsibility to bring to a higher form of struggle the need for a renewed solidarity among all those working towards a more humane treatment of prisoners and building an environment where conversion and reconciliation can happen.
We, the 320 Prison Chaplains and Prison Workers:
• CALL UPON the government of each country to give high priority in improving prison environments and ensure the observance of the UN Standards, Principles, Covenants and Recommendations on the Treatment of Prisoners, the “Forgotten People”;
• CALL UPON all churches and other agencies, to take effective steps to respond to the needs of those affected by crime.
• CALL UPON the MEDIA to report accurately and truthfully news on criminality and avoid sensationalism.
• URGE NGOs and Government agencies who are involved in the care of the forgotten people to constantly meet for networking and strong collaboration.
• RE-ITERATE our plea to our church leaders to sincerely address the emerging concerns of the forgotten people, especially in assigning ministers as prison chaplains and in setting up structures that will pull together resources of the community in their service.
• REALIZE THE URGENT NEED to re-assess and re-formulate plans of action and programs reflected in our Declarations.
• REAFFIRM our option for Life and we appeal to leaders of government with laws on death penalty for a stay of execution and to promote the culture of life.
• URGE the leaders of all nations to seriously consider the question of the death penalty and to make a sincere effort to abolish it.
• CALL on all sectors that value life and have a high regard for it, to join efforts, to increase public awareness on the evils of the death penalty and to constantly pressure our governments to denounce cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment that diminishes the person.
As we go back and return to our prison mission areas we bring with us new sources of energy born out of our own experiences of being loved by God.
Equipped with this strength and refreshed by the interaction with co-workers, we are now more confident to be witnesses of God’s Unconditional Love to all, especially the FORGOTTEN PEOPLE - THE PRISONERS.
We want them to have self-worth So we destroy their self-worth
We want them to be responsible So we take away all responsibility
We want them to be positive and constructive So we degrade them and make them useless
We want them to be trustworthy So we put them where there is no trust
We want them to be non-violent So we put them where violence is all around them
We want them to be kind and loving people So we subject them to hatred and cruelty
We want them to quit being the tough guy So we put them where the tough guy is respected
We want them to quit hanging around losers So we put all the losers under one roof
We want them to quit exploiting us So we put them where they exploit each other
We want them to take control of their lives, own problems and quit being a parasite... So we make them totally dependant on us
I heard this quote, from an American judge, at the conclusion of a very interesting program, "Think Tank", on Radio Scotland today. If you've got a spare half hour, and you can do it within the week before it's gone, I do recommend that you listen - click here. I've already listened to it twice today as it is along similar lines to some of the debates I heard at the IPCA conference in Stockholm, which I'm still processing in my little brain and will be blogging about soon.