As Christians around the region prepare for the holy holiday, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput made a special visit to celebrate Christmas a week early with prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center for men, the city’s maximum security prison and intake center on Monday morning.
There were no Christmas trees, incense, or communion wine at the annual service. But about 40 prisoners in light blue jump suits attended Mass under the florescent lights of the gymnasium surrounded by correctional officers, volunteers, and a small choir.
From a platform turned altar, Archbishop Chaput told the inmates he wished he had the power to release them from prison.
Instead, in his homily, he offered a message of hope, love, and prayer.
“The fact that you are a prisoner means nothing to God because he loves you as his son,” said Chaput.
Chaput, who will preside over midnight Mass for about 1,200 people at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul next week, said he would also take a message from the prison back to Catholics as they celebrate Christmas.
“I’ll tell them that if they have a son in prison that they shouldn’t be ashamed of that because they should love their son despite the fact that bad things have happened in his life,” said Chaput. “I’m going to tell them that — you are our brothers — as much as anyone else in the church.”
Christian Williams, a prisoner who attended the service, said he will not see his wife or children this holiday, but wished them a Merry Christmas. He said holidays are rough and that the mass was spiritually up lifting.
“We need that at a time like this. We miss our families,” said Williams “I feel very blessed to have the Archbishop come through.”
About 2,500 inmates are currently detained at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center. It’s the fifth year that Chaput has held the Christmas Mass.
The Philadelphia Department of Prisons facilities will be open for normal visitations on Christmas Day.