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Russ Ford The Missionary’s Catechism Marty Barrack’s Review Paul Likoudis’ Review Sheila Kippley Review Prison Apostolate Biography First Century Christian Ministries Catholic Church Behind Bars
The Second Exodus book states: “The most miserable refugee remains Godís image and likeness. Jesus told us, Mt 25:40 ’As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” We call ourselves pro-life in vain if we are not doing all we can to help and support persecuted Catholics. Russ is being persecuted.
It is the responsibility of every Catholic, whatever his station in life, to do everything he can to help and protect persecuted Christians of all denominations. We should pray every day, before the Blessed Sacrament if we can, but we should also take action in this world. We can write our congressman and senators and ask them politely but firmly to refuse trade and other privileges for any country that persecutes Catholics, and that includes China. We can ask store managers not to buy or stock the products of persecuting countries. We can insist that Congress pass a law establishing a Persecuting Nations List, and require that the products of any nation coming into the United States be labeled to show that they come from a Persecuting Nation. We can keep in our wallet a list of persecuting countries and refuse to buy their products. No dollar from any Catholic’s pocket should be spent on persecuting other Catholics! We can also insist that the news media focus on the persecution of Catholics and other Christians, and keep insisting; maybe public embarrassment will help. We can write magazine articles highlighting what is being done to Catholics and other Christians. We can ask our pastors for permission to put up signs in front of our churches, in front of every Church, saying “Free Persecuted Christians!” And we can put pamphlets in the church vestibule. After all, it is not the person who is being persecuted, but Christ in him. We are one body in Christ, and we who serve Him are all His family in the new and everlasting covenant. Indifference to the suffering of any Christian is indifference to the suffering of Christ on the cross.
But even in the United States there is severe persecution of Catholics who boldly assert their Faith amid the disapproval of government authorities. Russ Ford and Joe Scheidler are two prominent examples of Catholics who are being persecuted for their faith.
Russ is the world’s foremost Catholic evangelist working inside a prison system. We can learn more about Russ Ford from his bio and even more from his excellent book, The Missionary’s Catechism. While there, reflect that Russ specializes in evangelizing an extremely difficult population, Alabama prisoners, and has achieved phenomenal results.
Prison life in Alabama is so deeply offensive to the dignity of man, who is God’s image and likeness, as to shock Catholic sense. Because I have no wish to offend our gentle visitors, I have put it on a separate page. If you have the strength to endure hell on earth, read about Alabama prison life. But beyond the barbaric treatment of ordinary prisoners, Russ and his spiritual children have been singled out for special abuse. A white Catholic evangelist in an overwhelmingly black Evangelical Protestant prison system in the deep South is not going to win a lot of friends among the warden, chaplain, and guards. In a prison, where the staff has absolute control over every moment of a man’s life, it takes immense moral courage to persevere.
The Alabama prison guards routinely interrupt the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to count prisoners. Prisoners are accustomed to random counts, but when the guards realized that the Consecration is the most important part of the Mass they began to walk in right at that time and loudly order the priest to stop while they took a count. Russ points out that, even if they felt they had to take a count right then, they could easily do it without interrupting the Mass. Men at Mass are already in neat rows, all sitting or all standing or all kneeling.
The guards even do “counts” during the Sacrament of Penance. At Russ’s prison the Confessional is a room with all glass walls. The guards can easily see the priest and penitent at all times, and can easily see that no one else is in the tiny room. But they would often walk in anyway during the Confession and stop everything while they counted.
On one occasion, as the priest was processing out after Mass, a guard hit him hard, then took him away. There were about 40 prisoners at the Mass. When they saw their beloved priest hit and taken away they streamed out to kill the guard. Russ instantly moved between the men and the guard and pleaded with them to stop, reminding them that Jesus’ first words after being crucified were, Lk 23:34 “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” There were many cries of “Out of the way, Russ. That man will never hit another priest.” Russ finally prevailed, and the shaken guard took the priest away. All of them were frightened, not knowing whether the guard would kill the priest. As it turned out the priest was released without additional assault.
In October 1995, Russ was all set to be paroled. Anyone who knows him realizes that during the years since his baptism he has been a bulwark of moral courage. Russ’s priest stated at the parole hearing that he has been living a deeply Catholic and that anyone would be perfectly safe in his presence. A business owner stated that she was prepared to employ him as a business manager. The hearing went as if on rails until the very end. A woman on the parole board, a radical feminist who hated Catholics, asked the priest whether Russ had mentioned in Confession any other crimes that the board should be aware of. The priest explained the Seal of the Confessional and said that he could not discuss Russ’s confessions in any way. The radical feminist had evidently planned this ahead of time, because she answered that Russ could release the priest to discuss his confessions. The startled priest replied that no power on earth could make him discuss Russ’s confessions. In that case, the feminist replied, there would be no parole.
When Russ heard about this, he was more concerned for the Sacrament of Penance than for his own release. He sued the State of Alabama, which virtually ensured that he would not get a parole any time soon. His concern was that the Sacrament would become an instrument of law enforcement investigations. He told me that he would rather die in prison than gain his freedom by weakening the legal protections against forcing priests to reveal sacramental confessions. The lawsuit seems to have petered out with indeterminate results, and Russ is still in prison.
You can help Russ by (1) praying for his intentions, and (2) purchasing The Missionary’s Catechism.