On 19 January 2022, Cardinal Vincent Nichols met with prisoners at HMP Wormwood Scrubs in response to Pope Francis’s call ‘to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another’. The Cardinal told the prisoners that he particularly wanted ‘to listen to those who can often be forgotten’.
The visit was facilitated by CSAN member the Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact), of which Cardinal Nichols has been President, and supported by Acting Governor Dom Ceglowski and Fr Chima Ibekwe, Catholic Chaplain at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. While a difficult time for prisons as they work hard to mitigate the risks of COVID-19, the visit was important for the many prisoners who rely on faith and parish relationships to lead more positive lives following release.
Fr Ibekwe, who worked closely with prison staff and the Pact team to arrange the meeting with prisoners in the prison chapel, said:
‘Everyone here at Wormwood Scrubs embraced the Cardinal’s visit. The lads were so pleased that he sat with them. The support from not just the multi-faith chaplaincy but all the staff, including those with no religious faith, has touched my heart. We all worked together to make the visit a success.’
The Cardinal made time to speak at some length with prison staff over sandwiches. Pact staff and volunteers welcomed the Cardinal in the prison Visitors’ Centre, operated by Pact and home to the charity’s FamilySpace initiative, which supports families across London affected by the imprisonment of a close family member. On behalf of HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Father Ibekwe presented the Cardinal with a picture that included the words from Matthew’s Gospel: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’.
Some of the prisoners spoke about the importance for them of family and even parish connections, while they are inside, and the hope that these relationships can give them. The Cardinal reported that an important message for him was that the prisoners appreciated being acknowledged by parishes and would value being invited back to those communities when possible.