I am taking a walk with Pope Francis on Social Justice.
What would you do if you found out Jesus did not have a place to lay his head? What would you do if you discovered Jesus sleeping on a bench on the streets? Those are some of the questions Pope Francis will hope to address when he walks the streets of Washington, D.C.
In highlighting the social justice issues, Pope Francis has challenged Christians through the world – and Washington, D.C., in particular – to walk with him to bring Christ’s love, mercy and hope to others, especially those on the margins of society.
"Yes, Catholics and Methodists may not agree on some issues, but we all agree that when we see any of God’s children in prison or sick or hungry, we must come together and take care of them."
A few weeks ago I stood with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. to highlight the need for Christians, whether Catholic or United Methodist, to take up tangible ways to help others. I made a pledge of our commitment to walk with Pope Francis in our ministry to care for people affected by the criminal justice system and crime.
As most Methodists know, prison ministry was a key part of [the work of] John Wesley and the early Methodists as they believed that God’s face was imprinted on each human being whether they were in prison or not. Wesley visited people in prison and provided spiritual guidance, food and clothing to them. For example, in 1759, Wesley visited a prison near Bristol that housed French prisoners of the Seven Years War. Wesley was so moved by the need to improve the appalling prison conditions that he began to raise funds to buy linen and wool cloth to make into clothes for the prisoners. Wesley also convinced the city authorities to send mattresses and blankets for the prisoners. Wesley believed that Christians could not have authentic personal holiness without social holiness.
Today, The United Methodist Church trains and prepares congregations to create Healing Communities that welcome formerly incarcerated people and families of the incarcerated to our churches. We run treatment facilities for people suffering from addiction because incarceration cannot cure it. United Methodist clergy preach in prisons, counsel those seeking redemption and restoration and help men, women and children in their transition to a new life after incarceration. In the Baltimore-Washington Conference, the Conference Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministry Team has trained more than 60 people in 2015. Our efforts center around Isaiah 58:12: “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
And our commitment to walk with Pope Francis should include advocacy. It is time to stand together as the faith community to call for a change in harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses. We need to help secure federal funding for programs to help people leaving incarceration. We stand united in urging Congress, the White House and state legislatures to bring an end to mass incarceration that has led to fracturing of families and permanently disabling of those with criminal records.
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– Rev. Maidstone Mulenga is assistant to the bishop and director of Connectional Ministries for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. This article was also posted at www.umc.org.