Go Forth Without Fear: Prison Ministry in the time of COVID-19

During this time of pandemic isolation, I often think of the Bernalillo County Jail, one of the many detention facilities within the boundaries of New Mexico. As Director of Pastoral Outreach for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, I am graced to minister to the incarcerated there, in addition to other detention centers, with a handful of volunteers.  

There is a visit that stays in my memory — one I can remember as though it was yesterday. I was walking a corridor there, one that felt a mile long, housing men and women of many tongues in units, pods, and cells. I was distributing the Eucharist and was done for the day. 

Walking back to the locker room, there was a man in shackles with 4 guards around him, passing me. He hollered out, “Good morning, Deacon! I would like to receive the body of Christ.”

The guards brought him over to me and I was speechless; I explained that I was out of Eucharist.  

He smiled at me and asked if I could pray with him as he knelt in front of me. As I held the ciborium, he asked if I could uncover it. He smiled from ear to ear, he licked the tip of a finger in handcuffs, and used it to pick up a crumb. He asked me to pray with him and, before he consumed, he prayed, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” He then consumed the crumb on his finger.  

He began to cry, as did I when they resumed escorting him to his jail cell. As he continued down the corridor, he hollered, “Thanks be to God!”

At that moment, I thought to myself, “Today I saw the face of God at the Bernalillo County Detention Center.”

It has been two months since my last visit to the Bernalillo County Jail. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have been barred access to such facilities. Only one is allowing us to minister a weekly Bible study via Zoom.

We continue to supply some of the facilities with Bibles and Rosaries. We continue to correspond with inmates who are soon to become returning citizens through our ministry called Thresholds.


The needs of the incarcerated are many; their presence is genuinely a diverse community, though many are of the same color. Some of the inmates are also paid detention personnel, but they too need our prayers. 

On May 31st, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday. “Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind… and tongues as of fire… and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:2-4)

At the Pentecost Feast, just as the Apostles were called by Jesus Christ to unlock their doors and go forth into the world, we too are moved by the Holy Spirit among this pandemic world. Pope Francis calls on us to go into the peripheries, to take on the smell of the sheep — there you will see the face of Christ.

May we portray the image of Jesus Christ to all we encounter and not allow this pandemic to stifle us. Let us go forth without fear, for we have been anointed with the Holy Spirit through Baptism, Confirmation, and Pentecost, the birthday of our Mother church.