St Felix RC Church

Say ‘prisoners’ and many people think ‘bad, dangerous, aggressive, violent, avoid’. Recently, I’ve started saying a Saturday morning Mass at one of our local prisons, and I get a very different picture. The prisoners I meet are friendly, welcoming and a pleasure to be with. Some are keen on music, books and are easy to talk to. Their families and homes are very special to them. It is quite wrong to brand prisoners or any other category of people; it is usually false and unfair.

Of course we Catholics sometimes suffer in a similar way! Say ‘Catholic’ and many people think ‘bigoted, blinkered, obscurantist, guilt and gloom laden, avoid’. When I was a little boy my Protestant parents actually told me that Roman Catholics didn’t wash! Like prisoners, and maybe many other categories of people, we Catholics are used to being branded!

The truth is, of course, that we should never put labels on any group of people; it’s often false and always misleading. Under those labels we are all people, with our own individual gifts and personalities. Each one of us is special, made and loved by God, and gifted by him in innumerable different ways. Each of us has our good points and our not-so-good points. We should forget the categories and celebrate the individuals. I think that is what God does, and what he wants us to do.

Canon John Barnes

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