Hearing God’s call – resource for prisoners

Two years ago I was researching material for a new book. The book Call and Response is the resource that the Catholic Enquiry Centre supplies to those who enquire seeking information about the Catholic faith. In the midst of research and writing three significant things happened. The first was we received an enquiry from a priest asking if we had any catechetical resources that might be suitable for a person with impaired vision. The second was that we received three requests from prison chaplains seeking suitable catechetical material for prisoners. The third thing that happened was that Trish Mowbray from the National Network for Disability and Spirituality contacted us seeking catechetical material that might suit the needs of those with an intellectual disability.

In my job I often hear of people talking about the Holy Spirit acting in their lives. For the most part I find myself somewhat sceptical when I hear this. Looking back however, and perhaps this is really the only way we can talk about the action of the Holy Spirit, I can now see that these five people acted as God’s messengers. Full of information from research and preparing drafts I quickly dashed off a brief series of short catechetical sessions in simple language for Trish. These sessions were received with some enthusiasm and as a result the 18 chapters I had been working on for the book (full of theological jargon) became 36 short chapters written in simple language. Call and Response was launched in August 2010 and has been warmly embraced by enquiries and others seeking to assistance on their faith journey.

The requests from the prison chaplains and the priest on behalf of his blind parishioner remained with me however and prompted me into action. Perhaps this is what we mean when we talk about the Holy Spirit prompting us. Through a series of events the Bishops Commission for Mission and Faith Formation granted the Catholic Enquiry Centre a sum of money to write, record and distribute catechetical material to meet the needs of men and women in Australian prisons.

At first I thought this would be simply a matter of getting someone to read the text of the Call and Response and all would be well. The process of writing and producing Hearing God’s Call began with a meeting with the prison chaplain at Long Bay gaol, Fr Peter Carroll MSC. Fr Peter was enthusiastic in his support of the project and suddenly I was checking out ideas at a meeting of NSW Catholic Prison chaplains and sending draft recordings around Australia to prison chaplains in each State and Territory. From my meeting with the NSW prison chaplains three significant things occurred. The first was that a consultative working party made up of chaplains and ex prisoners was established. This group turned out to be an invaluable resource for the development of Hearing God’s Call. The second thing was the confirmation that the best format for prisoners in Australian gaols is spoken word on CDs. The third idea was that information on a film relevant to each topic and readily available on DVD be part of each session and that Fr Peter Malone MSC would provide the information on the films.

In consultation with the working party thirty topics were identified and rather than simply reading the text of Call and Response a whole new text had to be written. Each session goes for just under ten minutes and consists of a story, teaching, questions for reflection, information on a suggested film and a prayer. Another important development in this project was a suggestion by the person doing the recording that it might be good to have to text available to prisoners so as they listen to the sessions some can also increase their competence in literacy. We did this and as a result prison chaplains have access to a printed form of the program that is designed for people with low literacy skills.
Looking back over the whole process I can now see the action of the Holy Spirit working through a whole range of people and situations as I was hearing God’s call.

While Hearing God’s Call was produced to meet the needs of prisoners we have been told that there are others who may benefit from listening to it.
Hearing God’s Call CD set (4 cd’s) can be purchased for $44 plus postage and handling from the Catholic Enquiry Centre. PH: 1300 4 FAITH (1300 432 484) or email: info@catholicenquiry.com

John Francis Collins
Projects Manager
Catholic Enquiry Centre
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference