Local Ministries

Come and volunteer at a Lansing prison retreat

Deacon Marcos Navarro talks with a group of men at the Lansing Correctional Facility during a 2023 visit in which Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrated the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and first Communion. Deacon Navarro will be the spiritual director of a Kolbe Prison Ministries retreat at the facility from June 14-16. Volunteers are needed. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Moira Cullings

LANSING — As he prepares for the upcoming Kolbe Prison Ministries retreat at the Lansing Correctional Facility here, a poignant saying comes to Deacon Marcos Navarro’s mind.

“I’m retired military,” he said. “And one of the phrases we had is: ‘There aren’t any atheists in the foxhole.’”

The same might be said for those in prison, said Deacon Navarro of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee, who served as the facility’s chaplain for four years and continues to minister as a volunteer.

“Once people are incarcerated, the sense of loneliness sets in,” he said. “They have a difficult time relating to others. There are dangerous people in the environment. There’s a lot of fears.

“So, the only thing they can [do] is dig deep in their own faith.”

To help men at the Lansing Correctional Facility deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith in a supportive environment, a Kolbe Prison Ministries retreat will be held there from June 14-16.

Endorsed by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, it will be the first one held in Kansas, and local volunteers are needed.

Messengers of hope

Twenty men from Kolbe Prison Ministries, based out of Texas, will host the retreat, and Deacon Navarro will serve as spiritual director.

Organizers are seeking women for an “outside team,” which will help prepare, warm and transport food from the kitchen of St. Francis de Sales Church in Lansing to the prison.

Priests are needed to hear confessions at the prison on the Saturday afternoon of the retreat, celebrate Mass afterward and celebrate Mass again on Sunday morning.

The group is also in need of around 25-30 men for an “inside team,” which will help facilitate the retreat.

“To ease the minds of people who may be in doubt about going into a prison, the residents treat you like royalty,” said retreat coordinator John Errante.

“They’ve got your back, to use their terminology,” he continued, “because they are grateful that this was a priority for you to just be present and look them in the eye and dignify them.”

From left, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Father Anthony Saiki, Deacon Michael Wilson and Deacon Marcos Navarro walk out of the Lansing Correctional Facility following a visit in 2023. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Volunteers will attend a handful of scheduled Zoom meetings beginning on April 27 and leading up to the retreat. (Those who miss the first meeting are not eliminated from the opportunity.)

Organizers hope 60 to 70 prison residents will attend, and that there will be two to three volunteers at each table to serve as table leaders.

Each table will pick a patron saint, whose life they will read about and share with the wider group.

Throughout the retreat, attendees will have the opportunity to pray the rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet and Stations of the Cross; spend time in eucharistic adoration; receive the sacrament of reconciliation; and attend Mass.

Volunteers are there to share their own faith, serve as mentors and answer questions about Catholicism. A few deacons will also be there to answer the more complicated questions.

“A person doesn’t even need to say anything,” said Errante. “Just come in and, with [your] presence, dignify the people who still want to be Catholic independent of what some of their past behaviors may have been.”

A three-day retreat can be life-changing for the residents, added Errante.

“What makes it powerful is in a prison environment, you really can’t be vulnerable,” he said, “because the predators recognize that and take quick advantage.

“So, to get these men to feel enough trust to share their stories and know they’ll be confidential and people aren’t going to take them back out to the yard — that’s a really positive step forward.”

Deacon Marcos Navarro participates in Mass at the Lansing Correctional Facility. He will serve as the spiritual director of the June 14-16 Kolbe Prison Ministries retreat at the facility. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Deacon Navarro said volunteers tend to get as much, if not more, out of ministering to the incarcerated than they do.

“[They receive] an awareness that God’s love is unlimited,” he said. “In spite of the walls and the barbed wire and the clanging doors, God’s presence is there.”

Organizers say this retreat will be a steppingstone to build up the prison’s Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) program and support its Catholic community through weekly Bible studies and other events.

They also hope Kolbe Prison Ministries retreats will eventually be offered at prisons throughout Kansas.

Errante believes that despite their current state in life, there is hope for those who are incarcerated to develop a strong faith — with a little help.

“[For] people who have a culture of being deprived and marginalized, it’s hard to sometimes have faith,” he said, “because you don’t see the hope.

“And so, for these men to recognize that folks are giving up two-and-a-half days of their life to come in and share the faith with them is really powerful.”

To fill out a volunteer application form, scan the QR code below or send an email to: FisherOMen36@gmail.com.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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