Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 21, 2003
Chaplain wants help behind bars
Volunteers for prison ministry hard to find
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
If you can sing, play an instrument, lead a prayer group or simply talk about your faith, you belong in prison. That's how Sister Elisabeth Coulombe sees it.
Coulombe is the Catholic chaplain at the Edmonton Institution on Manning Road and she needs volunteers - "happy, joyful people" who can share the Good News with the inmates.
So far she has been unlucky, even though she's been trying since last September. The Church encourages prison ministry but hardly anyone wants to do it. "I haven't been able to get anybody."
A few months ago, a large Catholic institution asked her for a list of the volunteer positions she needed and promised to fill all of them. Today they won't even return her calls or e-mails. People are afraid of prison ministry because parish priests don't understand it, Coulombe lamented.
"I need singers and I would like to have volunteers for Bible studies to help the inmates with their Bible studies. I can't do everything."
Coulombe spoke on the need for prison volunteers April 15 at her office in the Max. That day she and Anglican chaplain Chris Tolton organized a lecture on the Book of Revelation by Archbishop Thomas Collins. Only 10 prisoners and staff attended because of the Oilers-Dallas Stars hockey game.
Coulombe has been doing the weekend liturgies all by herself and wishes she had musicians. "I want volunteer singers," she said. The prison has an organ, a piano and a guitar available to volunteers. They can also bring other instruments from the outside.
Colleges and parishes can send volunteers to the institution on a weekly or monthly basis or even three or four times a year, she said.
Ideally volunteers should be 25 years of age or older. "I want no minors."
What does it take to be a volunteer? "You have to have a certain dedication," the sister said. "You need the gift of listening to others. We have to listen to them because many of them have no families. They need to meet outside people."
Inmates need to meet people who are "happy to be Christian and happy to be who they are," the sister said. "People who are not ready to witness their faith are not coming here. And that's one thing I tell them (volunteers): 'You are not coming here to socialize.'
"I don't want to have socializers here. If you cannot witness you faith, don't come, because you have to talk to the inmates about your faith."
Added Coulombe, one of two full-time chaplains at the institution: "(As a volunteer) you have to be a witness of Jesus as much as possible. Not perfect, but bring the Good News to the inmates.
"The inmates are depressed. They have no families so what they need is Good News in a good way. They need to see joyful and happy people who are willing to share their faith with them." Those who have a tendency to criticize everybody are not good witnesses.
"I need volunteers that would be ready to encourage, to give hope. We have to give hope to the inmates. I need supporters. I want the volunteers not for me but if I have them, it is going to be for me because I'll be happy to see the inmates talking with you."
There are 240 inmates in nine units at the Edmonton Institution. Coulombe took over as chaplain a year ago in May, after spending three and a half years in Grande Cache.
Sister Elisabeth can be reached by phoning 472-4919 or via e-mail at coulombeel@CSC-SCC.GC.CA.