"Setting captives free"
Since Dismas Ministry was founded during the Jubilee year 2000 with its theme of setting captives free. Since then it has made great strides in fulfilling its mission to become a national Catholic prison outreach. Prior to that, a survey of over 300 U.S. Catholic prison chaplains, asked them to share the most urgent needs of their ministry, and how a Catholic outreach might serve them. Their response was clear–they needed free Catholic Bibles and scripture and faith study materials, “like the other denominations have” they wrote. At that time, Catholic prison ministry lagged far behind other denominations. It still does in many parts of the Catholic community. There is still much to be done to reach Catholic inmates.
From the beginning Dismas Ministry set out to make the chaplains’ requests and inmates’ spiritual needs the basis of its mission. The ministry serves approximately 12,000 inmates annually, and has supplied more than 128,400 Catholic Bibles to inmates in over 950 facilities in 43 states since it began. This same multi-state area includes 116 dioceses, many of which are considered mission territory because of their own need. Over 163,400 copies of Pray in the Spirit: Catholic Prayers for Inmates. This popular pocket-size book of common Catholic prayers, also includes art and prayers contributed by inmates, as well as lives of the saints who have been in prison. Catholic inmates often write how it is helping them to pray.
Dismas Ministry’s other projects that are now in place, but were requested constantly by chaplains and inmates for years, are: GOD WITH US-A Catholic Bible Study for Inmates, A REASON FOR HOPE-A Catholic Faith Study for Inmates, and PRAY ALWAYS-A Catholic Prayer Study for Inmates. These unique correspondence courses overseen by Dismas Ministry and its volunteers, were created especially for inmates and even included their input. Each year as the ministry expands with the support of Catholic donors, it also plans to add other states to its area of service until all 50 states are included. This will fulfill its original mission to serve as a national Catholic prison outreach.
The ministry’s work is ecumenical in nature because it depends greatly on the collaboration of hundreds of chaplains in state and federal prisons who very often are not Catholic, but who are grateful for the ministry’s free services to the inmates in their care. These chaplains have little or no budgets of their own. As a result, they request and then distribute the materials Dismas Ministry sends to them without cost.
Dismas Ministry is deeply committed to Christ among the incarcerated and believes that inmates are capable of change with help and encouragement. It holds to the belief that inmates belong to the Body of Christ and as fellow Catholics deserve adequate pastoral care.