Pope Francis washes the feet of an inmate during a Holy Thursday celebration at Velletri Correctional Facility, 36 miles south of Rome. (Vatican Media, via Reuters | CNS)

Bishop Dewane washes the feet of prisoners

Bowling Green | On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis visited Velletri Jail, outside Rome, and washed the feet of 12 inmates, recalling Christ’s actions at the Last Supper. 

On that same day, Bishop Frank J. Dewane travelled to Hardee Correctional Institution in Bowling Green to celebrate the Holy Thursday liturgy, including washing of the feet, with the Catholic inmates incarcerated there.

In addition to the inmates, the attendees included Father Timothy Van Zee, IVE, Catholic Chaplain serving Hardee, and five prison ministry volunteers who on a weekly basis bring the Holy Eucharist to the Catholic men incarcerated there.

In his homily, Bishop Dewane encouraged the inmates to enter into the empty tomb and find there the glory of Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Go out and announce the Good News of the empty tomb. Rejoice in the message of the Easter season, he said. “Put on the love and joy that is Christ and live it for all to see, whatever your circumstances might be.”

The Bishop promised the inmates he would remember them in all his prayers throughout the Easter Triduum.

Bishop Dewane is a favorite of the Catholic inmates at Hardee, as well as other penal institutions throughout the Diocese. In recognition of his loyalty, the Hardee men presented the Bishop with an original painting of the Good Shepherd rescuing his lost sheep. The painting was done by a Hardee inmate who sees the Bishop as his Good Shepherd. Souvenir paintings were also presented to Father Van Zee and the prison volunteers present.

Inmate David, speaking on behalf of the inmates, thanked the Bishop for “never forgetting us.” David promised the Bishop he would be remembered in all the inmates’ prayers. 

For the past several years, Bishop Dewane has made a special effort to go to a prison or jail during the Easter and Christmas seasons. This was the fifth consecutive year Bishop Dewane celebrated the Mass of the Last Supper at Hardee Correctional Institution. 

Robert Hiniker, Diocese prison volunteer coordinator, was at the Mass in Bowling Green, and it was very meaningful to the inmates and that the 12 whose feet were washed by Bishop Dewane were touched by the moment.

“They all sense a genuine concern and compassion for them by Bishop Dewane,” Hiniker said. 

The Bishop often urges the faithful to remember the incarcerated are part of the Church. 

“We have to reach out because they can’t come to us,” Bishop Dewane said. “We have to bring the Light of Christ to them and encounter Christ from within them.”

The Bishop celebrates the Mass at correctional facilities across the Diocese about a dozen times each year, and makes a point of going near Easter and Christmas. He has also conferred the Sacraments of Confirmation and Baptism for multiple inmates since he first arrived as Bishop in 2006.

The Diocesan prison outreach not only provides the Mass, but the pastoral needs of the inmates, sometimes their only connection to the outside world and their faith. These include a variety of other services such as Bible study, religious education and assistance with receiving the sacraments, such as Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

There are approximately 15,000 incarcerated in 21 jails/prisons scattered throughout the Diocese of Venice. There are currently 150 active prison outreach volunteers, including several priests and deacons, but Hiniker said there is always a need for more who are interested in sharing God’s love and mercy with those who are incarcerated. Hiniker stressed volunteers do not need previous experience working with inmates and are paired with experienced volunteers.