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The Incarcerated are Also a Praying People

Disciple Profile: Melvin Bautista

Restorative Justice Liturgy Volunteer at Elmwood Prison


Ministry at Elmwood Prison

Once a month I volunteer to play guitar at Sunday Mass for the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas. While my capacity there is primarily as a musician, I also encourage inmates to lector, participate in the Mass, and prepare the worship aides. My hope is that those attending will experience God’s love to heal and become what they receive: wounded healers. My ultimate goal is to bring them Jesus, nothing more, nothing less.

From ‘Salty’ to the Salt of the Earth

Despite their challenges, trauma, and pain, I have witnessed during Holy Mass the inmates’ transformation into people of faith. In the Gospel, Jesus said that when his disciples visited the incarcerated, “You visited me.” (Mt 25:36 NABRE) Until I began this ministry, I had not experienced what that meant. Those in jail arrived there because they caused harm. In the process, they harmed themselves as well. Mass is a safe space where healing and restoration by God takes place. The more broken a person is, the more they, like the Eucharist, can be shared by serving others. From being a ‘salty’ person, they too can become the salt of the earth.

A Personal Pilgrimage

Witnessing the inmates’ brokenness, sincerity, and humility strengthens my belief that receiving God's peace is possible here in Elmwood, even for the minister.  I grew up in a broken home, and the guitar I play at Mass was my dad's guitar.  My father and I did not agree on many things, but what brought us together was the love of music. He died on December 8, 2001, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. When I play at Elmwood, I imagine my dad playing with me, accompanied by our Blessed Mother Mary. This, combined with witnessing the inmates’ worshiper-hearts, sincerity, and thirst for God, encourages me in this ministry when I feel unworthy and unequipped to minister. Serving in the prison detention ministry at Elmwood has become much like a personal pilgrimage where I encounter Jesus.

A Praying People

I feel blessed to serve at Bishop Cantú’s yearly Mother’s Day and Father's Day Masses. During his homily at a  recent holiday Mass, Bishop Cantú assigned homework for those present: to allow God, who is Love, to love them and then extend that love to others.  Hearing those words helped me reflect on how the mission of bringing Jesus to others belongs to everyone, not just ministers and not just me. We are all broken, but even the broken can help heal the world. Even inside prison, the incarcerated are also a praying people. In my case, at the start, I assumed I would be bringing Jesus to the incarcerated. What I did not expect was to encounter Jesus through them. Do not be afraid to visit a prison! Simply showing up, loving how Jesus taught us, and listening to others will cast out all fear.

Tù Nhân Cũng Cầu Nguyện

Melvin ‘Binoy’ Bautista works for Santa Clara County’s Office of the Assessor. His parish is St. Julie's Billiart in San José, where he and his wife participate in the choir at Sunday Mass. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Pastoral Ministries with a concentration in Restorative Justice and Chaplaincy at Santa Clara University.

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